Prison Architect is the prison simulator that allows you to build and manage your own prison. Originally released as an early access game, Prison Architect was received positively with gamers and critics alike and with monthly updates from the developers was soon ready for a full release. This happened in October last year and the obvious next step for this indie title was reaching the console market. Well, here we are now and with the help of Double11, Prison Architecture has made it to the PS4 and Xbox One. However though, Simulator games have always been tricky ones to play on consoles but does Prison Architect manage it and keep the charm that made it a fun experience in the first place? Well readers, I sentence you to a brief sell behind bars!
When Prison Architect was originally released in early access it was just a sandbox game. You had to teach yourself everything by either playing the game or consulting the internet (pretty much how vanilla Minecraft was). Now if you had played the game since day one you have the benefit of learning how to play as the game evolved. The issue now is that there are a lot of different mechanics to learn now so this style of learning it no longer suitable. To over come this, when Prison Architect released Version 1.0 in October 2015, Introversion Software introduced a campaign mode that gave new comers a chance to learn how to play the game whilst enjoying a mafia style story. This mode is called Prison Stories and is too available in the console version.
Each stage of the story is told through scenes set up in pre-built prisons along with comic book style pictures and adds a very gritty feel to the overall story. The story spans over five-story driven episodes that will introduce the player to all aspects that make up Prison Architect.
Once you have finished the story and feel that you know everything about running a successful prison, you can jump straight into two other modes. The first is Architect which is the “original” game. You set certain options such as budget, events, gangs etc and build your prison from scratch. This is perfect for those who love to build but sometimes you may feel like jumping straight into a fully built prison. Well, with the new Warden mode you can do that. You can choose from 10 pre-built prisons and run the prison however you feel. Leave the prison as it is or change it; demolish buildings, build new wings or change how it runs completely, it is all down to you! What you need to remember though is that you are still in control of how the game plays; events will happen but not instantly.
If you still are craving more there is one more feature that will expand you game to infinite possibilities – World of Wardens (WoW). The WoW is a prison sharing service in which you can upload you creations too. You can also download other player’s creations to play and modify to suit your play style.
As you can see, Prison Architect offers a plot the player. I myself have only dappled with the story mode (which sits at between 12-15 hrs) but I see myself investing a lot of time in it before I call it quits.
Prison Architect offers a lot of different modes that will suit many different style of players but the main question is how well does it actually play? Building Simulators are one of my favourite games types but due to having a toaster for a PC I have missed out on a few good ones. These types of games work perfectly on PC due to the precise nature of the mouse and the many different keys available on a keyboard. These are features that a console controller can not offer. However though, upon loading the first level of Prison Stories I was impressed rather quickly by how well Double11 had adapted the game to be comfortable playing with a controller.
All cursor movements are mapped to the left analogue stick but it does not feel as responsive as using a mouse. Using a mouse to move a cursor across a screen feels natural and smooth but with an analogue stick it feels like you are pulling the cursor across the screen. You think you would not notice it but during the early game it really sticks out. Fortunately, you will adapt to the feeling and you will not notice it the longer you play.
Building Simulators always have lots of menus and options to work your way through. On a PC these are always assigned a short cut key but on a console you do not have that luxury. For the console these commands are assigned to the D-Pad. You press one of the four directions for an options (such as construction or management) and once there you move through the sub options using the D-Pad still. I like how these menus are assigned to the D-Pad as it separates the actual game-play (analogue stick) from the actual commands, making it easier on the player.
There are a lot of complex systems to learn throughout Prison Architect. These are introduced to you during the campaign but to fully understand them you will have to use them in your own prison. This may be the part that may put a lot of players off. Behind the scenes are a lot of systems that can allow you to create a fully operational prison system but if you struggle getting your head around how they work, you may struggle to enjoy the game.
Graphically Prison Architect is nothing spectacular but as mentioned above, it is all about game-play first. It is not bad to look at though – it is presented in a bold, 2D, cartoon like style that adds a charm to what should be a depressing experience (with it being set in a prison). The only down side of the port is how small the text is. I wear glasses but I had to move a little closer to my screen to read what was happening!
Double 11 have done a fine job at porting Prison Architect to the console without loosing what makes it special. However though, this can be a complicated game and is really only aimed at those power hunger players. Those gamers that enjoy building and controlling a world like they are some sort of god!
Saying that though, PA has tried to open the game up to all styles of players by including the Wardens mode but again, there are still elements there that may put a few off.
Basically if you like building simulators (such as Sim City & Theme Hospital) then you will feel like you have met PA before – it is somewhat similar but different enough to keep you entertained for many hours to come.
Prison Architect - 9/10
Who should buy this
Building Simulator fans
Players who like to invest hours into games
Who should avoid this
Players who need an end goal
Anyone looking for instant action
Maybe players who have had a bad experience with prisons?