Don’t let Prison Architect‘s cartoony exterior fool you for a moment — it hides a brutal, complex simulation reminiscent of Bullfrog’s Theme Park and Theme Hospital heyday. It will frazzle you with its many systems and disgust you with the deeds of your inmates. But you will not be able to stop playing.
Prison Architect reflects its old-school inspirations in its various modes of play — you can build a prison of your own from the ground up or your can jump into an existing one and try to keep it afloat. You’ll need to manage every aspect of your prison from making sure each building has water and power, outfitting your cells to give your inmates a certain level of comfort and balance their needs and wants accordingly and organising the odd shakedown to strip your inmates of any improvised weapons they might have stowed away
You’ll also need to make sure you’re properly staffed up with guards, medics, janitors and builders, and that your equipment can bear the load of your ever-expanding prison. You’ll even need to make sure you’re placing bins around the place to help keep the place tidy, lest your neat-freak inmates riot over lousy living conditions. It’s … a lot to take in.
Thankfully, the game has a handful of practice scenarios that serve as a tutorial. These sections are quite cleverly designed, giving you an overview of how to run your prison while telling emotionally affecting little stories. It’s here that Prison Architect first reveals its dark heart — the first story involves a man sentenced to death for the slaying of his wife and her secret lover following his walking in on them mid-coitus. You are to construct an execution chamber, outfit quarters for the man to reside in until his execution date, fit the chair and make sure that it is powered. The game tells you repeatedly that, regardless of your feelings on the matter, it is not up to you to decide whether or not this man dies. The courts have decided that he must and you have to make it happen. The tutorial segment ends with the man’s execution and the player likely feeling pretty forlorn about the whole thing.