Guest Post: Prison Architect Review

[Amy is a prolific techie, music blogger and games fan who kindly donated this review. For more stuff she's involved in I recommend fairhearing.co.uk and the Nomad theatre website, nomadtheatre.com. -Ed.]

Two weeks ago, during my regular late night YouTube surfs I stumbled upon Sjin of the Yogscast playing the opener to the currently-in-alpha “Prison Architect”. I was hooked in the first 30 seconds and trotted off to Introversion where I could source this fantastic looking game.

Two weeks later, I’m still thinking about the prison plan I’m going to come up with when I get home from work.

The game play is a shameless nod to British gamesmaker Bullfrog’s Theme Park and Theme Hospital where you dealt with an influx of the general public with all their complaints and try to keep them happy with meals, entertainment and regimes. Building rooms and reshuffling walls at the same time as battling the cleaning, accounts and staff.

I’m a huge fan of organisational tasks and wondered if anyone would ever revive one of my favourite game mechanics in the simple way that the ‘Theme’ games introduced. Introversion – you’ve done it in spades.

Prison Architect has an interesting, and at times sinister, twist to it. You have to stop the inmates escaping, fighting or damaging furniture or staff members. This has introduced a new level to the AI required by the sprites which Introversion have tackled with aplomb. Medical staff attend to the correct people and guards (which are getting smarter as the alpha continues) will follow laid out paths but still taking care of the trouble makers.

The heat slowly ramps up on this game. You start out with a nice clean Prison with happy prisoners, but as more and more arrive (remember you don’t want them to leave or you get penalised!) they are more and more likely to pick a fight, especially if the power generator over loads due to the new cookers you’ve installed in the third kitchen you’ve had to build. Fires and floods started by the prisoners add brilliant entertainment as you watch the carefully crafted 5 hour prison descend into complete chaos. Oh welp – try try again. (Note: you can actually turn this mechanic off in Alpha 2 allowing for a more sandbox mode of play).

Electric chairs and morgues are the sinister twist I was talking about earlier bringing a more adult feel to the “kiddy” game play that was seen in my early years.

The game play in this early Alpha is surprisingly good. The controls are simple but the introduction doesn’t give you the full “do this, then do that” that many games now employ. You have to work out what works and what doesn’t by yourself. The game runs smoothly in full screen on my PC (low grade by modern standards). The artwork is lovely and the differing sprites each have their own character! Cut scenes are graphic but simply beautiful.

I hesitate to critique anything in this game at the early stage as we’re only on Alpha 2. The only thing I will say is the price for this game is rather hefty at $30 for the base game. However, Introversion have constructed their own Kickstarter-style campaign on their website allowing you to buy extras, starting at $35, if you like what you see and want to invest more (I’m highly tempted).

Being involved in such an indie and early Alpha has made me feel very involved with this game and it certainly helps the developers to understand what the users want. They are taking regular surveys as to what you want to see next and with a new Alpha every 2 weeks we are certainly getting the maximum value out of it.

Prison Architect – well worth the money – for me at least! You can pick up your copy of the Alpha from: http://www.introversion.co.uk/prisonarchitect/

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