I love business tycoon type games. Whether it's Roller Coaster Tycoon or Mall Tycoon, I love games where I get essentially take control of a business and while other people usually build their businesses into huge companies with huge profits, I am usually... running it into the ground. Either way, I find these games incredibly fun. Prison Architect is a game that puts you in charge of your very own prison. You need to hire guards, cooks, janitors, medical staff, keep an eye on your prisoners, make sure they aren't causing any trouble and of course build all of the facilities to house said prisoners. I got a chance to preview an early build of the Xbox One version of the game and even though it isn't finished, there is tons of content available and tons of fun to be had.
As of this writing, three of the five story missions were available to play. The fourth and fifth story scenarios are still in development. Even though these missions act as a tutorial, It's still a fun way to be introduced to the plethora of things you can do in the game. The first story involved a man who has been sentenced to death for killing two people. I was tasked with actually creating the building in which his execution would be held.
I found that completing these these tasks with a controller was a breeze as the game has transitioned extremely well to the Xbox. You can open menus by simply pressing the D-pad and you can create buildings by holding down the button. Using the joystick, you can change the size of a box and release the button to drop the building in place. Then I had to draw power to the building by running power lines from our generator to the new execution chamber. Again, with the simplified menus, this was incredibly easy as you can just drop and drag where you want the power lines to go.
There are also things you need to take into account such as the time needed to make various facilities. You can add more maintenance workers to help speed up the process but this costs money. If you don't want to wait around for the job to be completed, you can hold the Y button and then speed up the flow of the game. The method of execution here was the electric chair and when I decided to test out the chair....I blew the power out in the whole facility. So I had to build more generators to make sure this wouldn't happen again. After that was finished, the unfortunate man reached his final destination. The other two missions will give you tutorials on how to deal with buildings burning down and prison riots. Now, I won't say much about anything that happens in the other stories and only for the reason that these stories are actually connected and I don't want to give anything away, but they do provide a fun way to learn the mechanics of the game before starting your own prison. Even within these short stories, you can also see the depth this game has with all of the things you need to pay attention to.
For the non story content, you can either create your own prison from scratch or you can choose one of the 10 pre-made prisons to control. The pre-made prisons start out small with simple 50-80 capacity prisons, and even go up to absolutely ridiculous 500+ capacity prisons. Seriously, the "Forever Inn" pre-made prison has a capacity of 502 and looks like it's something out of some kind of cyberpunk movie. I feel like they should have implemented multiplayer into the game because for one person to keep watch over this entire facility is crazy. Of course this also adds to the game if you are looking for a challenge because there are tons of modifiers you can add to the game to increase or decrease the challenge.
The first of which is the actual prison Warden itself. There are eight different Wardens to choose from and each one changes the way the prison is run. For example, "The Lobbyist" will use his connections to bring in easily controlled prisoners, which cuts down on individuals who may be violent, lethal or deadly. "The Pacifier" reduces the overall temperature of the prison, which reduces chances of inmates causing trouble. You can also decide how much money you start with and thankfully for people like me, there is the option to start the game with unlimited money and go crazy. I love business tycoon games, but that's mostly because I would be an atrocious business man. Usually in these types of games I will try using the money system but end up not paying attention and blowing everything which gets me into trouble later on.
For more added challenges, the game also includes failure conditions in which the game will end if there are too many riots, deaths, escapes or if you go bankrupt. Finally, in what the game calls an extreme challenge, you can turn on prison gangs. Which prisoners arrive, they will arrive with allegiances and said gangs will take control of territories in the prison and will have no qualms about striking down prison guards or other inmates.
Once you get right into the game, you will need to pay attention to your prison and watch what is going on. Usually because I didn't pay attention enough I would scroll around the screen and eventually see some poor dude bleeding to death in the shower or in the cafeteria. The game will give you important information in the form of the "needs" report that you can pull up from the d-pad. Here you will get a general feeling of how the prisoners are feeling at the moment. These needs are almost like the meters you see in Sims games and represent such things such as sleep, food, family, exercise, recreation, comfort, privacy, freedom, and even things such as drugs and alcohol. Most of the meters will start out in the green but you need to pay attention to these. If you ignore these and the meters turn to red, the prisoners will start getting rowdy and you could be looking at a full blown prison riot on your hands. This could lead to many deaths and even the whole facility burning to the ground if you don't take care of it. If this does happen, you can call in riot police, fire fighters and paramedics in extreme cases. You can also issue "bangups" which will cause all prisoners (if they are willing) to immediately return to their cells, Lockdown's to instantly lock down the entire prison, and Shakedown's in which guards will search all cells and seize any weapons, drugs or other contraband they might find. For those business majors out there, the game features tons of information about finances, bank loans, incoming money and such.... and these menus are kinda foreign to me since I know nothing about business. I have no idea what they mean but of course they are a nice thing to have for those who do play with finances turned on.
One feature that wasn't available was the "World of Wardens" mode, which says it will let you browse, download and play prisons from around the world as well as share your own. For someone like me, community created content is a lifesaver and mostly for the reason that... well I don't think I'm that creative. At least, I'm not creative enough to come up with something worth for others to download. I however am going to be downloading a crazy amount of prisons to see all of the cool stuff people come up with and maybe some of that stuff could give me ideas or inspiration for my own prisons.
Prison Architect is still in beta but there is still tons of content here to play around with and there is an impressive number of pre-made prisons in the game to get you going. Once the World of Wardens mode launches, you will have an unlimited number of prisons at your disposal. The transition from PC to Xbox One has been made beautifully and with all the difficulty options and modifiers that you can turn on or off for added or reduced challenge, this is a game that you could play for many years to come.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. My earliest gaming memories come from playing Lady Bug and Snafu on my fathers Colecovision and Intellivision respectively. It wasnt until I was 6 years old and played a Mortal Kombat 2 arcade machine in a game room at a hotel that I truly fell in love with a videogame. I have so many wonderful memories of my dad and I playing Mortal Kombat on SNES every night after dinner. Throughout my childhood NES, SNES, Gameboy and Sega Genesis were the loves of my life. Here I am 29 years old and still as much in love with videogames as I ever was. And for the record... I enjoyed the Mass Effect 3 ending... sue me