Prison Architect is a construction and management simulation game, initially developed by Introversion Software; but which is now taken care of by Paradox Interactive! The game was originally announced in 2011, and first made available as an Alpha in 2012. A crowd funding appeal was later made, and the full game was officially released in October 2015.
Prison Architect is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a game where the player is tasked with building a Prison, and then run that very Prison. Players start with an empty lot, and are given a small-ish budget to start construction of the prison. They have a few in-game tools to help them get started, including a very useful planning tool, which is incredibly helpful in just making a basic plan. Once players know what they want to build, they switch to construction mode, as builders grab the resources and start construction. Once complete; Prisoners can then be brought in to fill up the empty cells.
Building a prison is one thing, running it is another. Prisoners need facilities such as places to eat and places to exercise. They also require a base level of hygiene, clothes, and access to activities to prevent them causing further trouble. To this end the player needs to construct these facilities, and keep a close eye on the prisoners, as well as hire Guards, Cooks and Cleaners to look after them, and the facility.
The game starts out relatively small at first, but does help to guide the player along in the experience by providing a simple to understand tutorial/campaign mode to get to grips with the game, and then in it’s main gameplay mode, access to a selection of grants which provide in-game-cash, as well as suggestions for the newer players as to what they could consider doing next.
I first started playing this game in 2014, and to date I have played over 418 hours of gameplay. That is more than any other game I have played on Steam. I wouldn’t necessarily call it my favourite game however, but it does serve a very useful function. In the cases where I am having a lot of unsatisfactory gaming time, such as when I can’t get into a game or games for a long period, I can simply, and very quickly re-download Prison Architect; and just melt into the experience. It’s a very fun, and often relaxing game, which guarantees that I will have a good time playing it, even if there is nothing new to discover!
Prison Architect carries an interesting charm to it, in it’s incredible simplicity. The game was inspired by classic PC Games such as Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital, and Dwarf Fortress, and does carry that same top down plan view in those games. But Prison Architects simple charm comes from it’s simple art and animation design. The game is practically all in 2D. The prisoners, guards, and other staff are all in 2D, and the buildings carry some 3D style shading, but are again in 2D. This simple approach to art and design is really cool, and helps you melt into the experience, as its so easy on the eyes.
When the game first came out is was pretty simple, with not much in it, apart from what tools were available, and the limits of the player’s imagination. But since then further gameplay options have been added. For instance, you can now build a death row wing of your prison, and even schedule an execution, which includes a cool little mini game packed with ominous music. Other recent features include building your prison on an island plot, and being able to house the criminally insane.
One thing I especially love with this game is the ability to start all over again. Eventually you will get bored of your prison, and want to start again, but this could mean demolishing the entire prison and being strapped for cash in the process. A-Ha; PA provides you with the option to sell shares in your prison to get cash in order to build your new wing; or you could sell your entire prison, and start again with the huge amount of cash you made in the sale to help you go one step closer in building the Prison of your Dreams. It’s a feature I wish more games of the genre would include!
Prison Architect is a really cool, and often relaxing game experience, which helps you melt away into it’s world, and forget the real one when you need to. It’s a huge amount of fun for both players who want to build, but who also want to manage, and it carries a cool artistic charm which helps to make the whole experience as simple as possible. I really like it!