Title: Prison Architect PlayStation 4 Edition
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Introversion
Publisher: Double Eleven
Release date: June 28th
tl;dr: Prevent rioting and stop escapes in Prison Architect.
Price: $25 / £20 / €24
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

Prison Architect does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a simulation that lets you build and run your very own prison. With an original release on Steam, it’s surprising that the console version is so pleasing; initially, I had doubts about how a quite complex PC simulation would translate to the more simplistic console controls. Sure, the game can get a little fiddly, but it does work quite well considering.

Thankfully, the comprehensive tutorial mode, which takes the form of five Prison Stories, packs several different challenges that get you up to speed on different aspects of the game. The first of these Prison Stories  tells of a prisoner who’s been charged with double homicide and is sentenced to death. The problem is, the prison doesn’t have an electric chair or the facilities to look after the condemned man. This is where you learn how to make a building, install various fixtures and put in flooring. And, of course, ensure that you build an execution chamber, complete with electric chair.

Prison Architect

The second chapter builds upon the first by adding in emergency services, prisoner needs, and rebuilding. This starts with putting out a fire that is raging across a couple of buildings, and then rebuilding a new kitchen and canteen so that the prisoners can be fed. Again, you get to manage pretty much every aspect of the build, and it’s quite satisfying watching your workforce install everything from cookers and refrigerators, to rubbish bins and tables.

At this point, the game like to throw a spanner in your confidence, and with the third chapter the difficulty spikes by quite a bit. You deal with a prison riot, which you have to get under control; a challenging task that involves managing squads of guards, and then setting up peacekeepers. It takes a lot of trial and error to get things right, but it’s very rewarding once you have all pieces in place and restore law and order to the prison.

After getting through what seemed like a gargantuan task, I thought I now had the skills to design my own prison. It turns out that I really didn’t, but fortunately you can tweak the game settings to make things very easy for you (or very difficult, if you want). I turned off a bunch of options and enabled unlimited funds; this allowed me to just build what I liked and gave me a lot more breathing room to enjoy the game, rather than getting stressed out when a fire broke out or riots overtook a certain area of my prison.

Prison Architect

What was very interesting was following my prisoners behaviour. They each have needs, and you decide whether to meet them or not. With my unlimited funds, I built a huge common room where they could hang out, read books, and watch TV. I even started to get to a point where I was installing TVs in each prison cell;before realising I was almost planning a hotel and demolished them all.

This is the beauty of Prison Architect. It’s an incredibly broad and deep sandbox game that lets you play it in a wide variety of ways. You can run your prison like a business, building everything frugally, and packing in prisoners to make plenty of profit, or you can run it like a model prison and attempt to keep inmates happy.

No matter how you play, though, there is always a challenge. Something will always happen that requires your attention, whether it be an inmate issue or dealing with exhaustion levels of the prison guards. Ultimately, there seem to be a lot of different systems in this game that are designed around checks and balances, and it’s pretty much impossible to get everything right all of the time. And even if you get close, some random event comes along to mess things up. However, it doesn’t feel forced; things happen for a reason, and it’s up to you to solve them. It all helps to make Prison Architect such a fascinating game.

For those who love a detailed and complex building sim, Prison Architect is a must buy. It might not look the best, and the sound is on a basic level, but it offers a death of gameplay that is rarely found in most modern games. Do bear in mind that despite having a good tutorial, it doesn’t tell you everything there is to know about the game , and you’ll very likely have look up certain aspects of it online to get an understanding of how they work. Everything requires a fair bit of work to really get the best out of the game, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with a deep, entertaining, and addictive simulation.

Prison Architect

The Good

  • Stylised Graphics
  • A deep, rewarding experience
  • A fun arcade simulator

The Bad

  • Steep learning curve
  • Simple sound effects
  • Complex menus and mechanics

Family Focus

While the graphics are very child like, there are some very strong themes and implied violence that anyone young should stay away from.

This review is based on digital code supplied by the developer.