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Prison Architect review: Warden's pet

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 7, 2015
Prison Architect finally finished serving its three-year Early Access sentence.

Prison Architect

The game’s also obtuse about the systems behind its systems. How many benches do I need in my canteen to feed twenty prisoners? How much will this TV improve my prison’s Entertainment score if I stick it in a common room versus in a prisoner’s cell? Does putting fancy tiles down in the laundry do anything to improve my prison, or is it a purely aesthetic change?

While some amount of experimentation is always welcome in a builder game—that’s basically what these games are about—the lack of information in Prison Architect can be a bit frustrating. If you’re looking to optimize your prison construction, this is still very much a “Look at a Wiki” sort of game.

The Great Escape

Prison Architect‘s also added an entirely new game-type to round out its Official Launch Content, called “Escape Mode.” It’s the flipside of the equation: You’re Shawshank Redemption’s Andy Dufresne, Frank Morris of Escape from Alcatraz, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. You’ve been thrown into jail and have to escape by any means necessary.

I’ve heard Escape Mode compared to Hotline Miami a few times now, but I think that’s a bit generous. The controls are nowhere near as tight, the combat not snappy enough, for this to be Hotline Miami but in jail.

Prison Architect

But it’s sort of similar, in that it’s top-down with a heavy focus on melee combat, and you’ll most likely kill one or two (or more) guards before escaping.

The safest way to escape is to build your strength over time. Getting in fights, destroying prison property, and the like will earn you “Rep Points,” which you spend to upgrade your character and recruit other prisoners. Create a whole gang, upgrade all of them, and you’re ready to take on the guards head-on.

There are quieter ways, though. You don’t need to break into the armory. You can sneak out, or dig a tunnel, or pretty much anything your prisoners typically do when you’re in Sandbox mode. Any prison uploaded to Steam Workshop is eligible for Escape Mode, so there’s basically a limitless number of random seeds for you to try and escape from.

It’s an interesting addition—a good change of pace when you’re tired of building—and I’m curious to see how people enjoy it. Though I do think the controls need to be tightened up. Also, I wish there were more of a focus on rewarding the player for behaving—following the prison’s schedule, obeying guards, sleeping through the night. At the moment, there’s no incentive for good behavior because you only earn rep points for being a jerk.


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