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Prison Architect Preview (PC)

It’s hardly fair to review a game like Prison Architect simply because the game itself is still in Alpha but it feels like something that is so close to being complete, I’m not sure if that’s just good design or the fact that the game is so interesting.

From Introversion Software, Prison Architect is basically a prison management game. Players will be required to set up jail cells, hire employees, put prisoners to death and cook some gruel. Interestingly enough, the game is very difficult to get going because when you have upwards of 50 prisoners who are unhappy, things can quickly take a turn for the worst as they start rioting.

I was lucky enough to check out a lot of footage of Prison Architect when the game was still in early Alpha stages but now that it’s in Alpha 10, there are a lot of things that the development team has added and improved.

It all starts off with a minimalistic amount of money. In order to build a proper sized prison, you are going to need to take a couple of cash grants which mean you need to build a couple of things required to make your prison more comfortable. Prisoners will arrive at your prison every 24 hours. You will get eight on average each day, so you need to make sure that you have adequate cells to hold them all. If you can’t build each prisoner a cell, you are going to need to put a holding cell in to keep a lot of them at the same time. The problem with holding cells is that there are no beds in there, so they can’t sleep. While doing this, your workers are going to need to pipe up everywhere to give everyone access to water as well as lay cabling for electricity. By the time you have about 30 prisoners, you should expect a few fights and outbreaks. You are going to need to place a Solitary Cell so that all the prisoners who misbehave can be punished because clearly prison isn’t enough. Money management then obviously becomes a pretty huge issue and chances are you will need to call in Riot Police and some Paramedics to keep things under control. I’ve had the unfortunate incident of all three of my guards being killed by rioters and most of the prisoners just escaping. It wasn’t fun.

It’s an interesting game to play because not only am I a huge fan of “tycoon-type” games, I also feel that there may not be an end to this game. It’s difficult enough that you won’t breeze through it on your first twenty tries, but it’s also so much fun that it makes you want to keep trying and trying. Try and try and try, I’ve many different designs and many of them have huge fundamental flaws. It’s something that you learn from and it starts to become a process where you know you need to place or do certain things in order to be successful in specific areas. You can’t actually just build up a prison and leave it because it requires constant maintenance. More often than not, one sneaky guy in the batch of prisoners will be carrying a knife or poison in his pocket. The game allows you to see a short glimpse of it from time to time, but if you don’t search that prisoner and some violence breaks out, you’re going to have a bad time.

Each prisoner is almost like a Sim, they have specific wants and needs but it’s completely beyond your control. A large part of that is reliant then on the AI design that the developers have put into the game. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s flawless, but it’s pretty close because you are given a timetable which you can tweak to adjust the specific times inside the prison. What I mean by this, is that if you were only able to feed 2 percent of your prison due to a riot breaking out, you are going to need to feed them to prevent another one happening soon, so you can change your timetable to get them all fed. Then at least, it’s one less thing to worry about when looking around your prison.

There are a couple of things I wish would be easier such as the CCTV cameras. I would love to be able to just plop a guard down in front of a set of cameras and then have the misconduct happen, which then triggers a set of locked gates. I think a more expensive “indestructible” gate would be a welcome addition to the game, it would at least stop prisoners just slamming on a gate and eventually breaking it to cost you a lot in repairs once he has been beaten to a pulp by the riot guards.

Ultimately, Prison Architect is a fantastic game that I really enjoy playing and I’m really looking forward to the day the game is released. I refuse to score a game in the alpha stages but I’m quite confident that the developers are on the right track and given enough time, will be able to turn this game into even more of a hit than it currently is.

If you are interested in getting your hands on Prison Architect, they have their own crowd-funding project which is kind of like Kickstarter but not really. The game will cost you $30 (around R300) for the Base Pack which will give you instant access to the Alpha as well as a pre-order to the full game. You can see more about the game and pricing here.