| This one student of mine has been bugging me to play Prison Architect for two years. "Did you play Prison Architect yet? Did you play Prison Architect yet? Aw man, you gotta play Prison Architect!" He also bugged me to play GTA V, so I guess he likes games about criminals. |
I didn't know until I booted it that Introversion made the game. I really liked Darwinia back in the day, and DEFCON was interesting. This made me more excited to play Prison Architect. Sims / god games / city builder type games are not usually my thing, even though I sometimes think one will look really cool (Crusader Kings II and Kerbal Space Program are both awaiting their unboxing in my Steam library).
My initial impression...wait, back up. I spent an hour playing in sandbox mode on accident before I realized that the campaign was an extended tutorial. Why? Because when I ran the game, it just...started in sandbox mode. No title sequence or anything. Just a plot of land with trucks delivering some workers and supplies, a letter from the CEO giving me basic tips, and a couple basic goals. I thought, "Wow, drops you right in!" But no, this is not the tutorial. In my first hour, I was so lost. I couldn't figure out how power generators worked. My piping was all tangled. I didn't know how to assign a function to a building. Hell, I didn't even properly know how to build buildings. The difference between building a foundation and just laying concrete and putting walls around the perimeter was unknown to me then. That meant I couldn't build a holding cell, and the prisoners, they just kept coming! By the time I went to start over, I had about 35 prisoners roaming around near the road, all hungry and dissatisfied with my prison management skills.
I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I think I clicked "help" shortly after starting over, and it opened a wiki that said at the top, "STOP! Don't read this until you play the tutorial in the campaign." Who knew the campaign was a tutorial? Why doesn't the game say that? Why doesn't it start you there? The campaign is broken up into 5 chapters, and it does indeed teach you, beginning with the very basics in chapter 1 (like how to designate a building), moving through dealing with riots, rehabilitating prisoners, assigning prisoners to work, assigning guards to patrol, and tons more. It does this through a really well told narrative, where each chapter is connected despite each one taking place at different prisons. It begins with you building an execution chamber and holding cell for a man sentenced to death for a double homicide. The next chapter sheds light on who he killed. And so it chains prisoners and events together.
Despite all the things I enjoyed about Prison Architect (I looked at a clock and it was like 4 hours later), the campaign has some seriously annoying bugs. Here are a few I wrote down in my frustration:
--Objective: Build a common room and place 8 chairs for a meeting space. Problem: There was already a common room, but I had built another one earlier. With 8 chairs. But this objective wouldn't tick off. Solution: I looked up why I was stuck and the internet said you have to just put the chairs in the original common room (even though it tells you to build a common room). So it doesn't recognize the second common room with 8 chairs and you cannot proceed.
--Objective: Use riot guards to stop a prison riot! Problem: Riot guards get stuck going through doorways and killed one by one by prisoners with batons. No more riot guards come and I cannot figure out how to proceed. Solution: Restart the mission. This time the riot guards move a little more smoothly through doors, and the NPC correctly hits his cue and gives me reinforcements and moves the story forward.
--Objective: Put out the fire. Problem: The fire is out and it won't tick off the objectives list. Solution: Call in a fire truck and move firemen to where the fire was even though they extinguished it 30 minutes ago.
--Objective: Build phones in all the yards. Problem: I only see one yard, and I built phones in it. It's telling me I'm 50% done, so there must be another yard, but I don't see one. Solution: There was another yard that was not labeled, and I built a building on top of it. The game didn't overwrite the yard and replace it with the new building. If I want to place payphones in the second yard, I have to demolish my buildings one by one to find out where the yard was. Why not just let me put phones in the one remaining yard?
--Objective: Oversee 20 family visitations. Problem: I have built a visitation center, but no one is visiting (by the end, I had built five lonely visitation centers). Solution: There is a specific spot you have to build the visitation center. You probably built over it with another building. You have no way of knowing. I guess this one isn't technically a bug, it's just not giving the player necessary information. Same as before. Demolish buildings and build visitation centers until you figure out where the mandatory spot for it was.
I was planning to play in sandbox mode after the campaign, but the last campaign level is pretty much sandbox mode, and I have no real desire to build and manage a prison anymore. Oh , and also, the game does grapple a little with nature vs nurture and prison as deterrence vs rehabilitation. It comes down on the side of rehabilitation, and I think the game does a really good job of using procedural rhetoric to explore what it is like to be a prisoner or run a prison, including putting the player in the position to contemplate issues of the criminal justice system both while playing and once they are done playing. Good job Introversion!
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