Prison Ar­chi­tect



Some peo­ple just don’t want to be helped. You can of­fer re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cour­ses, pro­vide can­teens so sparkling clean you could eat your din­ner off the floor, and stick a pool ta­ble in the rec room, but when your stock in trade is the care of felons, there’s still al­ways some mal­con­tent who’s will­ing to shank a man in the show­ers over a funny look. It’s a bleak life les­son, but it’s not the only one lurk­ing like a land­mine in this colour­ful and of­ten charm­ing sim-man­age­ment game.

The cam­paign has a se­lect few spikes of dis­com­fit (you start by ad­min­is­ter­ing cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment and progress to quelling ri­ots with ex­treme prej­u­dice), which un­der­pin the drawn-out process of be­com­ing in­sti­tu­tion­alised in the bevy of re­port­ing and se­cu­rity tools at your dis­posal. It’s an in­tri­cate web of sys­tems, sure, but even af­ter five hours of thinly veiled tu­to­ri­als, you’ll still need to lean on the wiki to understand the game’s idio­syn­cra­sies. Par­tially that’s a re­sult of depth; de­spite the ti­tle, pro­cure­ment, ad­min­is­tra­tor, bean counter, day plan­ner, nu­tri­tion­ist, guard cap­tain and re­hab of­fi­cer all fall un­der your re­mit. But there’s an in­scrutabil­ity here that goes be­yond the UI, places where bru­tal­ist sys­tems logic stand proud over sense – drains do noth­ing un­der shower heads, for ex­am­ple, while pris­on­ers, rather than see­ing a free lunch, won’t leave their cells to eat in your can­teen if there are no walls to hem them in on the trip. There’s a smat­ter­ing of bugs too, the most com­mon be­ing that work­ers will iron­i­cally im­prison them­selves in build­ing projects.

Learn its quirks, how­ever, and Prison Ar­chi­tect’s sand­box per­mits a dizzy­ing breadth of op­tions for es­tab­lish­ing for-profit pe­nal fa­cil­i­ties. If re­cidi­vism merely sounds like the chime of cash reg­is­ters to you, then forget re­form and clamp down hard with ar­moured guards, strict regimes and a shield of red-tape-spew­ing lawyers. If you’d rather turn your in­mates to re­pay­ing their debt to you, if not so­ci­ety, then es­tab­lish a work­shop and start churn­ing out num­ber plates. The re­hab an­gle is trick­ier, fis­cally speak­ing (and your am­bi­tions will grind to a halt when money runs low), though there are grants to sup­port correctional paths.

What­ever pol­icy you adopt, the god-like over­view and fo­cus on hard cash is in­sid­i­ously de­hu­man­is­ing – your gaze is in­ex­orably drawn to the big­ger pic­ture, the great milling ant farm of prison life, crash­ing fo­cus only for the most trou­ble­some cases. And that might just be Prison Ar­chi­tect’s long-game mas­ter­stroke, de­spite its flaws. Even as you sched­ule an­other hour of hard labour and ex­per­i­ment with in­mate nu­tri­tion for a cheque, you’ll see a shiv­ving, sigh, and tell your­self that some peo­ple just don’t want to be helped.

Ini­tially, it’s dis­ap­point­ing to learn many rooms are most cost ef­fi­cient as a squat block at their min­i­mum size and ob­ject quota, but the abil­ity to cash in a suc­cess­ful build means you can toy with less prac­ti­cal creations

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