Prison Architect Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Double Eleven

Publisher: Double Eleven

Release Date: 16th August 2018

Price as of Article: $29.99 USD, £24.99 GBP

Game code provided by Double Eleven for review

Story

Prison Architect tells its tale through its Prison Stories mode. We get to experience legal grey areas in the prison sector and the gruesome realities that inmates and staff face on a daily basis. As the story unfolds it also focuses on the duties of prison staff and financial struggles in the prison system. I really liked how the story was told through 5 chapters and showed you the grittier side of life behind bars.

Gameplay

What we have here is an award-winning title: Prison Architect in all its glory now available on the go thanks to the Nintendo Switch. A prison management simulator with 2 extra expansions: the All day and a Night & psych ward add-ons. There is also an upcoming DLC – Escape mode – which lets you try and escape your own creations that will be released later this year. Prison Stories mode not only tells an intriguing tale but it also teaches you how to play the game by easing you into running and fixing up a state prison or penitentiary.

Prison Architect review
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Learning the basics

The thought of running your own prison can be quite daunting so this mode helps you learn the basics of how to run your prison. As the story progresses so do the explanations for intermediate and advanced mechanics in the game. This is invaluable in teaching you what you need to know to advance. I found this mode enjoyable and challenging, albeit quite dark too.

The first story is about an execution of an inmate and your main goal is to build the execution chamber… I mean talk about a wake-up call. It’s dark and gritty and allows you to collect snapshots (pictures that appear in level) which show you the insecurities and actions of the prisoners in question. Some are quite graphic, for example, there is a sex scene that shows partial nudity and the death of both the male and female who end up meeting their end by a shot to the head by the accused. It’s something I never thought I’d see on a Nintendo console. As much as it was unexpected, it was needed for its narrative. This is one title that would not be suitable for a young gamer though as the game touches on mature themes like sex, drugs, and violence.

I should have mentioned before you even start the game you can sign up to a DoubleID which is a free service and it allows you to unlock additional content to play with. It’s quick and easy and the process requires an email address and password. I set one up and was gifted with additional wardens to use in the sandbox mode.

Controls

Now let’s talk about how you play as a true architect. The basics are: You can move your cursor around with the left analog stick and move the camera with the right one. You zoom in and out with ZL and ZR triggers and control menus with the usual L and R to flip between screens, It’s your standard simulator controls scheme and works well. You also have four options located in the middle of the bottom screen – this is where you’ll spend most of your time. These can be accessed with the press of the direction pad. These Options are Reports – up, prison running – right, emergencies – down and Construction – left. Once a menu is open you have a plethora of options in each. For example in Reports you can find out the needs of your inmates. You can check the intake’s which lets you receive more prisons, pick what type’s of inmates you want.

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Management

You can also set a regime for your inmate e.g. what they do in a 24hr period. You can even access grants from this menu which act like challenges. If you manage to complete the grant you will be awarded a lump sum, this is really useful as things can get quite expensive so it’s always handy to have the extra funds in the bank. You can also set up programs to help inmates overcome drug addictions or learn a trade to help them when leaving prison. The other menu options such as construction are mainly for building your prison. Construction is simple and easy once you’ve learned how to do it. However, if you’re like me and want to plan your construction out you can do that with the planning tool which lets you draw walls and structures before actually building them, the idea is to plan out what you want to make before you commit to it.

When building something all you need to do is use the cursor to create a large or small structure. How much this will cost will appear in the center, as long as it’s in a green space it’s valid which means you can build there by pressing the A button. Of course, the building can be slow as you wait for your workmen to collect the material from the lorry and bring them to site to start construction. Thankfully like all good sim’s you can speed up time by simply holding X button and picking ether – pause, normal, fast or fastest to speed up the process. Make sure though you don’t touch anything in till the structure is built 100%. Otherwise, workmen don’t complete it fully. But say you don’t have the time to build everything from scratch. Well, don’t worry as you can use quick build option. Which lets you build pre-built rooms quickly and easy.

If you decide to build something yourself you’ll have to add the room to it. This will tell your staff and inmates what type of room this is intended for e.g. cell, parole office or canteen etc. If you don’t add a room to your building it will stand empty. The other menus are: prison running, which centre’s around the staff, patrol routes for your guards, heavy armoured units or dog handers. There is also the bureaucracy option which lets you buy, spend money to unlock new structures, programmes, staff and all the amenities you would need for your prison.

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Details

The last menu option is emergencies: fires may occur so call the fire services or you may have a riot on your hands and need to call in riot police. Its all very engaging and I haven’t been able to put it down. Management sims aim to have this effect on their players. It consumes your time. 1 hour can turn into 7 hours it’s that addictive but thankfully it doesn’t get boring as there’s always something happening or going on. There is not much clutter here, most of the menus have details on them so you know what they are.

At times things can feel a tad overwhelming, sometimes with so much going on, I felt the pressure when something bad was happening and didn’t know how to resolve it quickly enough. For the most part, it didn’t happen. My only issues are that some things aren’t explained fully. If you build a cell or cells, for example, make sure the area around the prison is enclosed otherwise your inmates may try to escape, guards won’t let them leave there cell’s which will result in them starving to death. It’s quite frustrating at the beginning as I just didn’t know what to do, I ended up looking up a solution on google to find a way to figure this out. Even though i experienced a few issues it didn’t stop me from enjoying what’s on offer. The game really makes you feel as though your the head of a prison and I liked it a lot. I’ve not even touched on sandbox mode which lets you make your perfect prison from scratch with a wealth of options including extra wardens you unlocked by subscribing to the DoubleID service. You can even pick from over 30 pre-made prisons each with there unique designs for you to run or edit to your liking, after all, you are the architect! Not only can you create but you can share these creations with a click of a button with the world of wardens. This mode is where you can share with the community your man-made prisons or pre-made ones, you can even download other peoples prisons to play them or rate them. Any game that allows others to create content is plus in my book. This increases likely hood of you returning time and time again to play. And lastly, there are achievements, online leaderboards for the world of wardens in the options menu.

Audio

There is music in the game but it’s only on the main menu, most of the in-game audio is your typical prison noises like the closing of cells, inmates eating, dogs barking and construction taking place. All sounds are believable and set the tone but it would have been a welcome addition to have some background music in the game.

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Visuals & Performance

The visuals in the game aren’t going to blow you away but everything looks like it’s supposed to. The objects have nice details to them and look believable. The games character models have a very simple design but they are very well animated and have a personality to them – it suits the overall look well. Performance is perfect – no issues at all and I’ve played over 10hrs so far without experiencing any problems. The game also features screenshots and video capture.

Value

For £24.99 it’s at the high end of switch titles on the eShop and I can understand a few people waiting for this to go on sale. But what’s here is fantastic, l love it and I think you’ll love it too! it has got to be my favorite simulator game that I’ve played in quite some time. There’s just so much to see and do. The addition of two expansions as well as new DLC being released later on will keep you playing. The addition of an online community constantly making new content helps keep you engaged longer as well.

Pros

P

So much see and do

P

Sandbox mode/prison stories

P

Online world of wardens/sharing

P

2 expansive’s

P

Addictive

Cons

P

Some options arent explained to you.

P

Not suitable for younger audience.

P

Time consuming.