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Prison Architect Alpha Impressions

Prison Architect is a prison management game in development by Introversion Software. This is another game that does what it says on the tin and has you become the architect behind the prison. It's vital to note that this game is still in it's alpha stage, and is therefore incomplete. However, I had heard a good deal of buzz surrounding them so I decided to pick it up and give it a spin.

The goal of Prison Architect is simply to construct a working prison and maintain the lives of the criminal scum who come to dwell within. This results is a fascinating distinction against other god games. Instead of the people you're building for being innocent peasants you want to look after they could be called the enemy in Prison Architect. Give them an inch and they'll take a mile, through a tunnel and away to freedom.

Even if you just stick to the low risk prisoners you'll find them constantly trying to escape whenever they see a chance. They will dig tunnels during the night from their cells and smuggle contraband items. You can go days without any incidents, but the moment you drop your guard is the moment one of them tries their luck. You'll be left with a black mark on your prison's valuation for each dastardly villain who makes his getaway.

Managing your money can also be a tricky affair in Prison Architect. Once you've used up your grant money you have to balance your expenses with your income. Having more prisoners will increase your income, but you need to build cells to house them and hire more cooks to feed them. And you can't just take prisoners one at a time. If you choose to accept them they come in group of at least eight when you start out, and this can increase each day. This balance is complicated further by the fact that prisoners will eventually leave, whether they serve their time in full or make a risky escape. This ends up cutting a part of your funding.

Prison Architect does offer other methods to raise extra funds, which mostly includes sending your inmates to the workshop to produce license plates, but this requires you to balance your daily routine to make enough time for them to work. Of course, if you cut too much into their free time or dinner then they'll become very unhappy and start causing you more trouble.

The bureaucracy system allows you to research new technology and recruit new types of staff. It's not exactly the most complex tree seen in this kind of game, but recruiting certain staff requires you to meet a set of needs, such as most of them needing an office. The advancement won't really last long however, and a few days you'll have pretty much everything you need staff wise.

Once you've built the walls and doors you can use the rooms option to mark out the different areas of your prison. Each area has certain requirements which are listed in the tool-tips. If you mark out a room and it doesn't meet the checklist then a notice will appear in the middle, handily listing which requires it doesn't meet in red.

However, not all tool-tips provided by Prison Architect are as useful. This is particularly the case for the objects. There are many objects you can place which you might suspect will have a benefit but the game won't tell you right off the bat. While some of them are obvious to figure out, like beds and showers, others will leave you wondering how much you might actually need it or where it needs to be placed in the prison. When this cost money and time to install it can sometime feel like a wasted effort.

The introduction to Prison Architect is a powerful tutorial which puts you face to face with the worrying realities that running a prison will present while at the same time teaching you the very basics of how to play. I won't spoil exactly what it is because I think it's as important as any plot twist, even if is just in the first few minutes of the game. It's perhaps the most memorable tutorial I've played in a very long time. Certainly, it's one of those things I'll remember as being one of gaming's genuinely more mature moments.

Unfortunately, beyond that there are no missions yet and no other tutorials to teach you what everything else in the game does or how to take care of your prisoners. Naturally, this can only be blamed on the game being in alpha state, but that doesn't change the fact that you will find yourself tripping up and restarting a lot as you fiddle with things in game and slowly discover how to manage everything. If you're not into this style of trial and error learning then I would recommend holding off on this game until a later stage of development.

Despite Prison Architect's somewhat grim premise it does try to inject some humour here and there. This is mostly done through some of the profiles of the prison inmates you collect. If you pay a certain amount when buying Prison Architect you are given the chance to add your name in the game with a bio. I personally find it to be rather hit and miss at best. I can't say any of the ones I've seen so far struck me as particularly well written or amusing. While the idea of having prisoners named after real people is nice, I don't like the fact that almost all of them come with some ridiculous nickname. Having a sense of humour is a good thing for a game like this, but I just don't think it's pulling off just yet.

Despite still being a foetus of a game, Prison Architect has some awesome potential. The alpha gives the impression of a very strong title. However, unless you're seriously interested in picking up this unique management game I'm not going to recommend it out of hand. If you are serious about playing this game then you can pick it up from the official website for a base price of $30, which is not what I would call cheap for an alpha product. You can also buy on Steam. You can purchase special packs for more if you want to support the developers of Prison Architect even further.

You can also read this on my personal blog.
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About Shuudaone of us since 5:34 PM on 03.27.2012

Online I go by the alias of Shuuda. I am currently living North Yorkshire, England. In 2011 I graduated from the University of Hull with a first class degree in Design for Digital Media, where I studied both the creative and theoretical sides of the digital technology and the internet.

As someone who is passionate about about video games than the fantasy genre, I am highly interested in how stories can be told through interactive media. I concern myself with how the genre is portrayed within the medium and its implications. I give it both criticism and praise, but mostly criticism. Writing fiction has been my hobby for many years, and I feel that video games have influenced and inspired the content of my work in recent times.


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