Introversion Software’s prison management sim has been around a while now if you take into account its alpha release all the way back from 2012. With its first official v1.0 PC release at the back end of last year and a bustling community obsessed with creating the perfect lock-up, we take a look to see if the PlayStation 4 version can re-ignite the addiction.
Game: Prison Architect
Developer: Introversion Software
Publisher: Introversion Software
Reviewed on: (Review code provided)
If you don’t own a PC or are completely new to the game, Prison Architect is a ‘tycoon’ type game that tasks you to a build and manage a private prison. With a plot of land and a pile of cash you’ll set about building your prison whilst micromanaging different aspects of prison life from the layout, intake and staff, all the way to finances and room furniture placement.
You don’t quite realise how much there is to do and plan until you start playing. Making sure your cells, shower rooms and canteens are laid out in an optimised fashion is the basic bread and butter to day-to-day running. But then there’s making sure the more aggressive prisoners don’t cross paths with the more tame inmates, decking your prison out with security cameras and the staff to operate them and more importantly, carefully monitoring your intake and creating avenues for more income that ultimately dictates your success and how much you’ll be able to expand.
The PC version is hugely addictive and provides hours of fun, especially when you get immersed in the micromanagement aspects. Thankfully the PS4 version pretty much delivers the entire experience intact. It’s not as user friendly as using a mouse and keyboard but that’s no shock as playing any game of this type is bound to be a bit more fiddly – and that’s only an issue for anyone coming from the PC version. Console owners won’t miss what they’ve never experienced and in fairness, the clever mapping of controls to the controller means I was building my prison with little-to-no issue in no time at all. Asides from finding the cursor a little unwieldy at times, the devs have largely done a good job translating the controls over.
Introduced to the official release was tutorial modes which serve the PS4 version well. Under the guise of ‘Prison Stories’ you’ll learn the basics whilst constructing an electric chair for a man convicted of double homicide and sentenced to death, for example. Each story introduces you to new facets of the game such as managing prison power and water supplies, as well assigning guard patrols and general building quirks. To a new player there’s almost a surprise amount of micromanaging to partake in so you’ll be grateful of the mini-walkthroughs to ease you in.
Perhaps the most important aspect is keeping prisoners happy. That sounds ridiculous, I know, seeing that you’re running a prison, but when they’re not having basic needs fulfilled they get grumpy and it makes your job a whole lot more difficult as they’ll begin to aggravate each other and even start riots that throw the system into disarray. Saying that, you may choose to go that route. That’s what makes the game so interesting; you may want an overly packed prison to churn out some quick cash, or maybe you’ll prefer the more controllable style of gameplay where everyone lives in harmony and has every need filled. The variety is what makes Prison Architect so interesting to play as you endeavour to create exactly how you see fit.
The game’s cut-out cartoony style works perfectly and on the PS4 it’s arguably even better. Visuals are crisp and the user interface seems to breathe a little more thanks to quick menus assigned to the controller. When you’re digging deep in so many facets of gameplay, it’s good that everything you look at moves so smoothly and provides the necessary information clearly. Without it, with so much to keep on top of, Prison Architect would be a difficult beast to tame.
If you’ve come from PC like me, then you might miss some of the available mods that do improve some of the game’s less friendly quirks such as furniture positioning, for example, or even visual tweaks such as clearer icons or the entertaining South Park characters mod. It’s a shame they can’t be brought into this version, however prison designs from the Steam Workshop has alternative in the way of Prison Warden Mode on console that also allows you to delve into other users’ creations. It’s nice to take a peek at what others have been doing, plus adds a fun way to learn about some cool tricks to streamline your own creations.
Prison Architect is the perfect game for those that love building and management type games. There’s enough depth and community following to keep you coming back for more and trying different things, and whilst the controls take a little getting used to on controller, they eventually become second nature the more time you invest. There’s nothing here to make previous PC players want to go again, but if you’re new to the game and need something to really sink your teeth into, Prison Architect is a highly detailed, highly addictive game that’ll give you more bang for your buck than a lot of titles worth twice the price.