Anghus Houvouras with some first impressions of Prison Architect on Xbox One…
What I love most about gaming is when you come across an unexpected gem. Something that is able to surprise you and wind up taking untold hours of your life that you might have spent elsewhere. When I say ‘elsewhere’ I mean on more standard games that are usually occupying my free time. I’ve been making my way through a catalog of reduxes and remakes of games I hadn’t played in some time, like the incredible Metro series and Gears of War. Games where you callously murder the enemy with a variety of interesting weaponry. It was right around that time when I got my hands on the early access for the new game, Prison Architect.
Prison Architect is The Sims meets HBO show Oz. It’s a game that allows you to try and create order of a variety of different prisons, each with their own sets of challenges and populated by a variety of interesting characters. It has all the great elements of a world building game which allows you to play a bureaucratic version of God, but on a small enough level that feels manageable.
There’s a lot to absorb. As a run and gun kind of gamer, the complexities and depth of which the game sets out to achieve is a bit daunting. I spent a fair amount of time swimming through various menus trying to get a hang of where everything was. There’s a handy tutorial which will help you with the basic, but there are some things which you will be forced to figure out on your own through either some second screen reading or a trial and error system of management.
Although the educational curve felt a little steep, once you get into the game you’ll marvel at the level of detail which you can outfit your prison and set up the infrastructure to create a successful venture. And that’s how success is defined in Prison Architect: creating a viable revenue stream. The cynic in me chuckled, since so many prisons have been privatized. Your prison becomes profitable by making sure it runs smooth and stays free of drama. Some of that drama can come from unhappy prisoners. Idle hands do the devil’s work so keeping your prisoners content is important, as is keeping a close eye on them.
The prison scenario can devolve quickly without constant attention. Unlike other builder simulation games, time feels more like an enemy than another factor to consider. You need to get your prison up and running quickly and handle various disasters efficiently. There is little margin for error.
The most appealing part of the game is the level of control you have over the prison. It’s a contained environment with so many moving parts. Prison Architect felt fun to me because the world you’re trying to contain, control, and profit from is small, but there’s so many things that must be done in order to keep it all from going to hell.
My first impressions of Prison Architect were very favorable. This is a game with a lot of options and a lot of spinning plates that force the player to act. It’s a building game with a sense of movement and motivation and absolutely worth checking out.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.
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