Prison Architect isn’t like the other management sims where you have a fickle and restless population. Your residents in this game won’t be happy. Usually they will want to kill your prison guards or start fires to break free. And you’ll have to deal with such issues.
Building a prison that you have seen in your dreams, or a nightmare for most prisoners, is done in the same way as with any other sim. You lay down the foundation, add doors, and pull electric cables and water pipes into place. You choose what type of room it is and then add what it needs. Cells, for example, only need a bed and a toilet. Then you will be able to watch your tiny little workpeople construct what you want to build.
The complicated part is when you want to use the rooms that you have built. Canteens and kitchens are allowed to be only in certain cell blocks, security cameras need to be connected to the command center consoles, and then you will have to hire guards to monitor the camera consoles. You can build workshops, but you will need to train inmates to work there, which means that you will have to hire instructors, schedule classes, and then assign the graduates that have work schedules and a place where you can deliver license plates when it comes to exporting and sale. Yes, it can be quite overwhelming as your to-do list gets bigger. And then you have those prisoners that end up walking out with tools under their jumpsuits. But the best part is when everything falls into place.
Prison Architect works quite well when it comes to the macro scale, which is managing the budget, staff, getting grants, the infrastructure, and utilities. But there are times when you have to focus on a certain inmate or group of inmates, such as when a virus attacks half of the prison population and you have to check each one of them, or when an informant tells you that there is going to be a hit on another informant.
The simulation is all about cash. This is a privately run prison, so the more prisoners you take in, the more money you make, thus you will be tempted to cram as many prisoners as possible into your jail. There is a grant system from which you can get more money, providing for the needs of the mission structure. You can apply for grants like drug or alcohol addiction treatment, parole hearings, family visitations, labor skill classes, and even security training.
When you play with random events, there is a chance that you will have utility failures, kitchen fires, and demands from the mayor, which makes you deal with one or more issues or crises at once.
The tutorial campaign doesn’t really teach you step by step how to build a prison. It actually puts you in charge of various prisons that have issues to be solved, which gives you a hands-on experience on how to run your own prison. It is also the only place where human drama happens, as you deal with the personal stories of various inmates and get to see the results of a broken system.
There are only a handful of bugs that are noticed, such as the game refusing to recognize that the correct number of chairs was in the common room for the alcohol treatment program.
Other than that, the game itself is great. None of the issues will prevent Prison Architect from being an addicting balancing act that gives you the simulation filled with surprises, challenges, and sometimes things that horrify you.