Prison Architect may seem like your everyday, ordinary Prison Simulator. But in reality it is so much more. The creators of the game stress that they aim for absolute realism, and by doing so created one of the most detailed simulators I have ever played.
As well as an entertaining campaign that teaches the player how to build a successful prison (while also showing the harsh realities of prison life)- and the type of thing that puts people there in the first place, the game features a creation mode.
The game (as the name suggests) puts you in the role of the Architect, allowing you to plan out and build each building and the rooms within it in the style of a blueprint (see below).
Although at first this seems like a very finicky process, once you've gotten the hang of it, you will find the planning stage is vital to creating a prison that works and flows smoothly. I spent a lot of my time re-purposing the buildings I had created with a specific idea in mind, because I found that once I'd put it into practice, the building did not meet the size requirement of the room I wished to place in it. This was made much easier in a later update, with the 'Quick Build' function for Cells, Solitary Cells and Offices.
As the game is a sandbox game, one of its main strengths is the freedom to create whatever you like. I've experimented with having my prison all within one building, or having separate buildings for each type of facility and cell block. However, I was surprised when the solitary cells in the quick build included toilets in them. For whatever reason, I hadn't thought to include such a necessity into the tiny cells that my prisoners visited so frequently.
In Prison Architect, you can change how the prison works in many different ways.
As the game progresses, you can unlock new functions and staff through Bureaucracy (See Below).
Once you have unlocked something, you will be granted access to different functions and tasks. For example, if you want to be able to use sniffer dogs in your prison, you must first unlock Security, Hire a Security Chief and then unlock Patrols and Dogs.
Escape mode is an interesting extra to the game that allows you to act as a prisoner within the prison, and attempt to escape. Although this mode doesn't live up to games like 'The Escapist', players have to remember that it's only an extra, and not the main game.
The campaign seconds as a tutorial for the game, teaching the player the basics of how to play the game, while also giving us insight into the lives of the prisoners (see below).
As the game continues and your prison gains more inmates, it will become harder and harder to keep your prisoners happy. This may not seem important, they are in prison after all, but take it from me. IT IS.
If the prisoners are unhappy, the 'Danger' meter will begin to fill. And once it fills completely, things start going down, fast. Before you know it, your entire prison is rioting, your staff are being attacked, and you have to call in the Riot police.
This is part of what makes the game such an organic experience. In real life, prisoners are very volatile, and if their basic needs aren't met and enough of them become angry about it, they will riot. While playing this game, I couldn't help but wonder how those who work at prisons like this manage to go through the day feeling safe, and how the prisoners manage to survive without going completely crazy.
I'll admit, I'm not the best Architect out there, and I found my prison rioting more often than I would like to admit. But the game does make you think about what life must be like for these people. Especially the campaign mode.
Overall, Prison architect is a very addictive simulator, and is one of the most realistic and in-depth building simulators I've played in a long time. And with frequent updates still coming, I can't see another game beating it any time soon.