Prison Architect

Prison Architect Early Access Impressions

Prison Architect is a top-down 2-D construction and management simulator specifically a prison management simulator, made by Introversion Software and produced by Mark Morris and designed by Chris Delay. Introversion have previously made games like Uplink, Darwinia, DEFCON, multiwinia, and Darwinia+. Mark & Chris make regular update videos regarding the current build state of the game.

The beginning of Prison Architect is probably one of the grimmest that I have seen, the game begins with an intro, in which you have been contacted to build a Death Row facility, in order to put to death a prisoner that has committed a double murder.

Prison Architect

This is essentially the tutorial level, despite the cartoon-esque graphics there is a rather dark undertone. I should point out that the player does not have to accept death row inmates and even if they do, they do not have to build the electric chair facility.

Putting that aside for a moment, once the tutorial is completed the player can then build their own detention centre. You’re given some money and tasked to build whatever you like. The aim of the game is to build an efficient centre with minimal issues from the incarcerated population.

Which as you can imagine is sometimes rather difficult, the game doesn’t exactly have a difficulty level, however the player can choose the type of prisoners (low risk, normal risk, high risk, Death Row) the type of risk and the amount of prisoners within that risk category, as well as the centre and its suitability of facilities for said inmates is what essentially determines the difficulty levels.

When beginning a new game, building a “good” centre is possibly overwhelming, you have two options, you can continue to mess around in the tutorial level or you can use the in game “prison sharing” option whereby other players who have uploaded their prisons for you to download and run yourself. Failing that, the player is generally recommended to stick with the low-risk category prisoner.

Prison ArchitectPrison pictured here is via Prison Sharing called “Starter Prison” made/published by [TCR] Coastercraze

Once you feel you have a decent & efficient prison you can then start accepting normal/high risk inmates. But that’s not all there is to it, there are a number of different nuances that the player needs to be aware of, for example the prisoners need to be provided with various different facilities such as a yard, library, chapel, kitchen and cafeteria. In order to provide these you will need various different staff such as kitchen staff, janitors, gardeners, doctors and of course (armed) guards.

The player receives an income based on the number of/level of risk of the inmates and the challenge to balance the income versus the staff wages required to run the centre, build facilities, hire more staff, etc. To assist with this, there is a grant system that will provide the player with a cash boost to build various different facilities which will improve the entire prison complex and its suitability. It also acts as a guide and directs you to build in order to achieve the completion bonus.

Prison ArchitectFully unlocked research tree

The player has to research various different aspects in order to unlock certain features. Which takes time and money that add to the challenge of the game. Some assist with the day-to-day running such as prison labour, which allows you to assign jobs to prisoners. Others help train/improve inmates to work as cooks or in the workshop (for reducing costs/ bonus cash), as well as assist with narcotic/alcohol abuse and general behavioural therapy. The “endgame” has currently three outcomes:  

  1. The player creates a reasonably decent centre that they are then able to sell and use that to start a new centre with a larger start-up capital.
  2. The player creates an efficient well run centre, and unlocks the ability for death row inmates.
  3. Player fails to create a decent centre with too many deaths and/or escapes which results in them being fired.

Prison ArchitectAn example of the needs of prisoners, and current need fulfilment

In order for the challenge to be maintained, the prisoners have a needs system that must be fulfilled. The player needs to be aware of contraband entering the prison by various different means, not to mention new influx of prisoners and/or higher risk prisoners “kicking off”.  The player is provided with a number of tools in order to counteract these. The trade-off is in order to continue to make money the prison must accept new inmates which will invariably upset the current balance. You have control over the amount/level of risk prisoners and can also close the prison, which is generally done initially to facilitate the initial building of the centre or if the prison has reached its full capacity.

The game is completely mouse driven, there are a few keys/keyboard shortcuts, the control works really well. The graphics are cartoon-esque and rather cute which is in contrast to the sinister nature surrounding prisons, inmates and of course the death penalty.

The cartoon graphics do make an otherwise difficult topic rather fun. The soundtrack is minimal which suits this kind of environment, the sound assets however are excellent. Everything sounds as far as I know pretty much the way it should sound and if the player gets to the stage of putting a prisoner to death on death row, the sound assets change to suit that very dark subject.

Prison architect review

Overall, I bought this some time ago now, and I absolutely love this game. It is one of my all-time favourites. The game is in alpha stage, so some users have reported problems however I have experienced little to none. There is a lot of depth to the game, which is amazing.

The developers have said the game is very nearly complete and I am looking forward to the finished version. If you like management/building games, this game is a must buy if you are not too bothered about the subject matter. Due to the blood/violence/excretion, in an otherwise cartoon-esque game, buyer discretion is advised.

Prison Architect

Prison Architect

Overall Game Rating



    • sheer amount of scope with regards to rooms and objects.
    • soundtrack/assits are spot on
    • clever AI system
    • good difficulty scaling, research and management options.
    • gameplay is excellent and superbly functional despite being in alpha


    About Colin Lavery

    Profile photo of Colin Lavery
    Colin is a PC/Xbox gamer to whom gameplay outweighs graphics by a country mile. Colin is rather fond of pixel art games such as Pixel Piracy, to games such as Prison Architect, Rimworld and Project Zomboid. Space games such as X3 and Starpoint Gemini. Games with any mention of a “Reaper” or responsive Devs get double XP.

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