Prison Architect from Introversion Software First Impressions
Prison Architect from Introversion Software was released as an Alpha, available with a pre-purchase of the game, last week. If you haven’t been keeping score, Prison Architect is a Dungeon Keeper / Theme Hospital style game from the makers of Uplink and Darwinia. I couldn’t throw my money at them fast enough. The good news about this: I have impressions of the current Prison Architect alpha. Mind you, this is an alpha and, as such, is subject to change a lot before the game is finally ‘released’.
The first thing I found about Prison Architect is that it is pretty merciless or I am completely incompetent. I ran out of money half a dozen times or more before any prisoners finally showed up. Part of that is that, in the alpha, you are left to either go read the wiki or try to figure things out yourself. I have chosen the latter tack, so it is really my own fault that I keep messing things up. You start off with a fairly small amount of money and are told that you have eight prisoners coming the next day. 24 hours is plenty of time to get your prison up and coming, since you really just need cells for the prisoners, an office for your warden (who you have to hire), a cook, a kitchen for the cook, and to get your electricity and water hooked up. I would probably grab a security guard as well. Beyond that, everything else is just bonus. Of course, how you get your real starting money is by taking grants, which I talk about below.
Although Prison Architect clearly takes inspiration from the games I’ve mentioned before, it also has the Dwarf Fortress /Roguelike heart that beats inside so many games I love these days. Part of it is the incredible density of the game. You can make whatever kind of buildings you want and you designate those rooms much like you do in Dwarf Fortress (although with an interface that most people can figure out, I admit). You have limited direct control over the denizens of your prison and, as your prison grows, you will only be able to manage so much of what is happening. One thing I have found useful so far is that you find the Grants menu, you can get a big pile of cash to, say, hire an accountant or whatever, which is a nice way to have ‘quests’ in the game as well as get a quick cash infusion. The beginning of the game is much easier if you grab a grant early on, something that took me a while to figure out. You get to the grants by clicking on the ‘reports’ button in the lower-right of the screen, which you should do immediately, since they act as a guide for how you should go about your business and give you the money necessary to get things up and running. I wouldn’t recommend trying to start your prison without them.
The other big thing that Prison Architect has in common with Roguelikes is your never-ending struggle against increasingly-insurmountable odds. In Prison Architect, things don’t seem so bad when you’re about to get your first eight prisoners. You may even feel prepared. But it probably won’t last, with the feeling disappating as soon as you see you will be getting another eight prisoners the next day. Overcrowded prisons indeed. The floors start cracking and your prison starts deteriorating almost as soon as you build it. This will not end well.
At least not for your prisoners. For me, Prison Architect is already well worth the price of admission. It’s got a great art style and great gameplay on top of that. I really recommend you take a look at it if you are at all interested in these kinds of games.