Prison Architect (PS4)
Genre: Simulation - Manufacturer: Introversion Software - Age Rating: 16+
1 reviews from the community
Review of "Prison Architect (PS4)"
Journalling more for myself than anything else now, so I don't expect reads or rates!
Prison Architect is a game I initially fell in love with on the PC, and as with all of my love affairs, promptly bought it for the PS4 as well. Now personally, I prefer the PC version, however there is no PC category on Ciao – it’s a download not a physical product – and I am therefore going to review the both in the one review. For a start it would be a shame to rate down what is actually a darn good game just because the controls on the PS4 are more fiddly and annoying. After all, the PC version has more than enough annoyances without adding any more!Prison Architect follows in a long line of construction, management and simulation games across many decades now; Theme Hospital being one of the earlier ones that I remember but there have been many, many before and after; SimsCity, Theme Park, RollerCoaster Tycoon for example immediately come to mind. Prison Architect takes this idea to a different level though as instead of building something cheerful like a theme park, you are building a prison. And not just any prison; you are building private prisons where not only do you have to keep prisoners housed, fed, vaguely content and not killing each other, you also have to turn a profit.
The game is made up of two modes; Campaign and Sandbox and whilst Sandbox is far larger and more expansive than the five Campaign modes, if you start there you are going to be absolutely flummoxed. Actually, you may well be absolutely flummoxed if you try it in honesty as there is absolutely no easing you in and no tutorial. The tutorial is, I suppose, the Campaign mode… although one of the biggest drawbacks to this game is actually a lack of a decent tutorial because the Campaign mode spends more time telling a story and making you deal with disasters than actually teaching you how to play the game. Hey ho, you get the hang of it eventually.There are five levels to Campaign mode, and as you would expect they get steadily more difficult as you go on. In each one, you are given control of a prison and expected to do something ot fix something as you go. So in the initial level, your tasks are simple. You merely have to fix the electricity and plumbing lines to ensure that your prisoners have light and water in their cells and then build an execution chamber. This is your only tutorial in how to build rooms, and as I will point out later, it is not an intuitive process to begin with.
And from there, the campaign levels just throw you into chaos as your next hospital has a burning blaze in the canteen and kitchen which devastates a section of the hospital… it’s not even out and the fire fighters haven’t been called as you take over. From there you move onto a riot scenario where prisoners have taken over three wings of a huge prison and set fire to a forth and yep, it’s your job to take control, command and hopefully not lose too many lives in the process. You get the gist yeah? This is not tutorial stuff, really. Interesting, challenging and frustrating as hell… but not a step by step, this is how you build a prison.In terms of controls and gameplay, Prison Architect is not the easiest of games to get to grips with on multiple levels, however once you have got the hang of it then the game is an immersive and compelling play. The aim of the game is to build and run a prison. This involves building cells, facilities, kitchens and canteens, punishment blocks and utilities and various other aspects that come with a prison. It took me a while to get the hang of just building as first you need to build the foundation of your building, then you can designate aspects of the building to be individual rooms along with building walls and doors in between. Then of course you have to bring it up to spec; so a cell needs a bed and a toilet before it is habitable. It doesn’t come naturally and takes a bit of practice to get moving, which is why a decent tutorial would come in handy.
On top of this you need to connect your utilities to each area that requires power and water, keep your utility usage within your generators capacity, hire and assign staff including warden, guards, workers, doctors, cooks and the like along with specialists including a psychiatrist to read your prisoners needs. You are essentially the architect and the governor of your own prison and it is your job to keep the whole thing running smoothly, all the way down to the prisoner regimes, the searching of cells to get rid of contraband like drugs and knives, calling paramedics if a prisoner has overdosed and you don’t have a medical ward, dealing with corpses, rehabilitating and training your prisoners, prisoners work, paroling your prisoners, executing your prisoners and everything else. Oh, and of course keeping the finances ticking over correctly.The main thing this game quickly teaches you, is that you cannot be complacent. It is all well and good to be building suites of this that and the other, but if you aren’t paying overall control you won’t notice the riot until you’ve already got a lot of dead bodies piled up in the canteen. Trust me. I know. In one of the games, I ended up with two paramedic units on constant standby as it was simply the most effective way of ensuring the fewest possible prisoners and guards pegged it. It also quickly teaches you that sometimes compromises have to be made – particularly in Sandbox mode where you start with very little – because you have to be financially viable. You have to be making a profit. And to make a profit, you might just have to cut a few corners… even when you know it is only going to cause you misery upon high later on.
It’s frustrating, aggravating and makes you want to scream and yet for all that it is an incredibly addictive and rewarding game. There’s a sense of pride in being able to get your plot of land up and running into a functioning prison, going from nothing to cell blocks with low, medium and high security prisoners, setting up education and training facilities, cutting staff costs by training prisoners to cook, clean and do laundry and in general keep the place ticking over. And the game never lets it get boring because whilst there is always something else to do, to upgrade, to invest in – security systems, new buildings, dogs etc – there is also plenty of firefighting to do in both a literal and figurative fashion. After all, your new wing burning down is important, but so is the seventy prisoner strong riot that caused it in the first place!The game builds as you progress in sandbox, offering you the option to invest in an armoury for example which gives you access to armed police and then from that line you can gain access to tasers through a further upgrade or from the staff line you gain access to prisoner needs through a psychiatrist whilst finance and lawyers help you in other ways. In a similar line you can upgrade your security through dogs, guard towers and such like, or focus more heavily on either punishment or rehabilitation in other lines of upgrades. There is also the option to make life even more complicated for yourself by ‘upgrading’ to micromanagement, in which you control even the smallest aspects of your prison like the heating. Those who are a glutton for punishment!
A small thing that I have to admit did impress me is the fact that each and every prisoner has an individual biography, individual temperament, has been convicted of individual crimes and has individual needs. This is far more in-depth than in the simulation games that I used to play and prisoners may require more exercise in which case you can put exercise bikes in cells or public areas, they may need drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs, they may want training or work or simply more contact with their families. It is up to you as the prison governor to decide what approach you are going to take and the sandbox mode really does give you the option to play in a variety of different styles and create different prisons with very different approaches.This gives the game a huge amount of replay value, as much in the style of these kind of games, if you get bored with one design or the prisoners get on your nerves too much you can either start over in a completely different way or for that matter do something drastic like setting the army on your prisoners in a complete bloodbath massacre. You do need to invest the time in doing the Campaign which is far more linear, otherwise you are simply not going to have a clue… othgerwise you will need a shed load of online tutorials… but the games power is in how much control it allows you to have, whilst having prisoners that actually really don’t necessarily play to your plan. You can do everything right and they can still decide to have a knife fight in the yard and well, what can you do except mop up the blood, lock ‘em in the cells and strip search every damn one of them. And don’t get me started on escape tunnels.
In terms of age rating this is a sixteen and yeah, I can see that. From a complexity aspect to start with, much below fifteen will actually have difficulty juggling the basic difficulty on this game. Both me and my fiancé find it exceptionally frustrating and there is very little in the way of tutorial, making it genuinely not a young teenage game. Secondly, content. Oh boy, the content. This is a prison simulation game and whilst it isn’t high quality graphically realistic, it doesn’t pull its punches. On the prisoner scale, convicts riot and kill each other, suicide and kill themselves, overdose and die that way and aren’t shy on the language. Your guards aren’t necessarily squeaky clean and can actively be corrupt and indeed, you as governor have a choice as to whether you want to look after your prisoners or neglect their needs, save money and authorise lethal or brutal force. On top of that, there are narrative sequences which are more ‘serious cartoon’ style, showing serious crimes including murders, hostage shooting and of course execution of a prisoner in the opening campaign. This is not a game suitable for young children. Fifteen is the lowest I’d be able to say and that would be very much at parental discretion.In terms of pricing, you can pick this up for £16.95 on PS4 from Amazon and it is generally sold full price on Steam for £19.99 however it is worth keeping an eye out for sales as I initially picked this up at under a tenner. Personally, I prefer the Steam version to the PS4 version as the controls do seem easier to manage with a mouse than with a controller and they’re not that simple with a mouse. The PS4 version has 31 trophies which is appealing, however the control issue does make it a far sounder experience in honesty. That isn’t going to stop me from trying to collect the shinies that said…
Do I Recommend?
I do indeed; this is a seriously addictive, although frusdtrating game. It plays well and is detailed enough and complex enough to keep you going through prison after prison after prison and allows you the freedom to sandbox. On Steam you can download additional mods to the game. My main complaint is the lack of a decent tutorial, which this game could really do with as it is by no means the easiest game to pick up and play. In fact it was probably a good five hours in that I was comfortable with the controls and building mechanisms… and I hadn’t started on rehabilitation programs and all that jazz!
Product Information : Prison Architect (PS4)
Manufacturer's product descriptionGenre: Simulation - Manufacturer: Introversion Software - Age Rating: 16+
Long Name: Prison Architect
Sub Genre: Construction & Management Sim
Release Date: 2016
Developer: Introversion Software
Manufacturer: Introversion Software
Listed on Ciao since: 04/07/2016