Review: Prison Architect (PS4)

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Title: Prison Architect
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (248.7 MB)
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Publisher: Double Eleven
Developer: Introversion Software
Original MSRP: $29.99
ESRB Rating: M
Prison Architect is also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Do not let the cute graphics fool you, Prison Architect is about a sensitive subject and it does not pull any punches. It’s up to you as a player to build and run a prison the way you see fit, either with an iron fist or a caring touch.

You start off with Prison Stories. This serves as the training for the real meat of the game, Prison Building. As a nice touch the developers added a bit of a story to the training. This helped take what could be a dull experience and brighten it up.

The story is simple but kept me captivated from a death row inmate’s plight to a riot leaders tale. It kept me wanting to finish my training so I can see what the next chapter had in store. The developers make it a point to humanize the plight of inmates and I found that comforting. But what makes this game truly fun is its gameplay.

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I’m going to break up gameplay in a couple different ways here. The focus in Prison Stories is to teach you the basics in each chapter. There are five chapters in all and each grows in complexity as you go through.

The game does an excellent job of holding your hand for the most part. There were some sections I had trouble with such as my first attempts at constructing a building or assigning a room designation to a area.

… begin constructing your prison …
Once I got the hang of it and understood the rules, I had a much easier time of things. One of the highlights is the UI, and man is it slick and easy to use. Each direction of the D-Pad is used for a different type of category such as construction, prison running and more. You will spend most of your time here while building your prison and then running it.

It’s hard to pin down what genre Prison Architect belongs in, it could be either a building sim or an economy sim, but the game does both well. I will say I had more fun building my prisons than running them but that is more due to my personality. The training does both well but leaves some of the minutiae for you to figure out on your own.

Prison Architect: PlayStation®4 Edition_20160621081653

The Prison Stories mode lasts somewhere between five to ten hours depending on how well you pick it up and if you do any of the bonus objectives. It seems like a lot for a downloadable title, but it barely scratches the surface.

The major gameplay portion is building. Here you take a empty plot of ground and begin constructing your prison. At the start you are given a wide range of modifiers to choose from. You can choose anywhere from the amount of money you start with, to the condition of the land, to the size of the prison.

… a lot of options to choose from …
With that figured out, you can start building. I will say right off that I loved this aspect and if I had any graph paper I would have designed my prisons on paper first then incorporated the design into the game. The choices and decisions to be made are numerous and cover any aspect of prison life you can think of. It’s well thought out and will keep you busy for hours.

World of Wardens is another mode that places you into a premade prison and allows you to be the warden to run the type of prison you see fit. This mode, like the others, allows you to micromanage to your heart’s content or to take a reactive approach. You will have to deal with everything from keeping your prison clean to full blown riots.

I enjoyed this mode the least as I am a builder and not a manager, but I had fun running my prison like a business and I tried to make it a well oiled machine. You have a choice of which wardens to pick from and there are a lot of options to choose from.

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Visuals:
Don’t let the simple graphics fool you, they are well done and the visual style fits the game like a glove. From the bright colors to the grim dinginess of a filthy place, the graphics portray the state of your prison. The game also runs smooth, with no real hiccups.

Audio:
This is where the game falters a little bit. While there is not a whole lot of music and no spoken dialogue, the ambient noise of your prison shines. From prisoners going to and from the chow hall to the sounds of a riot, the game does a good job here.

… a surprising title that I really enjoyed …
I would have liked some more music choices though, and adding voiceover to the Prison Stories scenes would have added a something to the stories being told.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

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Conclusion:
Prison Architect is a surprising title that I really enjoyed. I tend to keep my expectations low and let the games I review surprise me, and this one certainly did. I really dug the fact that they tied a loose story into the tutorial section which made it manageable and fun.

Even the simplistic or “cute” graphics fit right in and make this title just fun. It can be complicated in places though and when in Warden Mode I had trouble keeping up at times. There is a lot to choose from but for the most part it’s easy to keep track of.

Do I recommend the game to everyone? Not exactly. While I think there is something for non-builders and managers, I don’t think there is enough to justify a purchase, although I could be wrong. But for those builders and managers come on in, you will find something here and you will likely enjoy it for hours on end.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Shawn Hiers

Shawn Hiers

Disabled gamer. Married Father of 3, and playing since the Atari days. I have a passion for all things Lego and an avid Toy Collector. I am also an huge Doctor Who Fan and can talk all things Who for hours 🙂

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