• Prison Architect


  • Simulation


  • Introversion Software


  • Introversion Software

Release Date:

  • September 25, 2012 (early access), October 6, 2015 (official)



  • Windows

On Wikipedia:

Editor's Note: The old version of this review notes that I had started writing on July 16, 2016 but didn't finish until March 26, 2017. Keep in mind that this is review is both a bit dated and potentially offensive as it contains language not found in the rest of this article. Reading back, it does comment on how I was disappointed with Cities: Skylines even from day one and Prison Architect did have a lot of features that I liked, that were important to the foundations of the genre. And funny I brought that up because in 2019, Introversion Software sold the rights to the game to Paradox Interactive, the publisher of Cities: Skylines. Since then, it was reconfigured into a launcher-based title and was flooded with DLC, and...it wasn't the same after that. Nevertheless, I have rated this game as "Good" but that only reflects how I played it in 2016. (Editor's Note over. Now, onto the 2016/2017 review).

Now, despite the censorship of the word "shit" in the trailer, the game is a definite hard M (comparatively, the Prison Tycoon series...and yes, in the research of this article I found there was a whole series, is rated T), and you'll get a first glance with that when the first chapter of the story mode shows you some...not quite skin but definitely too risqué for even perhaps a T rating. The Story Mode is mostly a tutorial, as you'll be guided through it by the CEO of the prison (it's a privatized prison, apparently). The first one has you building basic rooms (an execution chamber) for Edward, and his story of what got him in the joint to begin with. The second involves putting out a fire in the canteen/kitchen area and building a new one before prisoners get too antsy about not having a place to eat (apparently they aren't fed at all, as the CEO of the prison explains...is distributing Pop-Tarts and water bottles not an option?). The story in this one is Don Palermo, a mob boss who was horrifically burned in the fire and accuses one of his heirs (his son and son-in-law) of starting the fire, only he uses some rather...colorful language ("Which one of you cocksucking, faggot-banging, rat-piss mother fuckers did this?").

I was a little bit skeptical of Prison Architect given the fairly simple graphics and the whole destruction of the tycoon genre but, no, it was a surprisingly deep game with all the right facets to balance "fun" and "micromanagement". After the incredible disappointment that was Cities Skylines it gives me a lot of hope to see a well-built 2D simulation game much like the 1990s simulation games were.

The gritty graphic novel artwork is in sharp contrast to the in-game view, where bodies resemble either pills, semi-circles, or inverted triangles, and heads are just a circle with two dots.

Some players paid extra to write their own prison blurbs. I'm sort of surprised someone got away with this. (Click for full rez)

As the story mode progressed, you could see a storyline in the campaign mode progressing. Midway through the the second chapter, you'll discover Don Palermo was only caught because his eldest son, Anthony Palermo, the one that actualy run things, was the one boning Edward's wife and was shot by Edward. It was after this that the feds had enough evidence to round up Nico Tamoretti (Don's son-in-law), Sonny (Don's pudgy and not-too-bright other son), and Don Palermo.

The third chapter ups the social commentary (previously, the only thing up to this point was a quip about the death penalty vs. life imprisonment for the same crime, depending on the state) when the CEO of the prison is kidnapped, and tells of the major money that was brought in by prisoners (benefitting the mayor) before he is killed when a SWAT team bursts in and lets the bullets fly everywhere. The fourth and fifth chapter is related to a friend of the perp in the third chapter, but unfortunately, it fails to tie up the story of the first two chapters with the Palermos (or tie in with), nor does it bring justice to the crooked mayor.

The game is made by a British developer but seems to be emulating the American prison system, possibly for satire and social commentary. From what I've played, it isn't too one-sided as incarceration tends to be one of those things with multi-faceted valid arguments. Fairly early one there is a barb about the death penalty vs. life imprisonment for the same crime depending on the state, but we're not talking a screed here. The game is clearly set in America, as Don Palermo's empire is stated to be an East Coast mob, going from Maine to Florida.

This shows the prison escape mode as well as the result of mod glitches

Despite the in-depth customization on a lot of factors, there are a number of things I couldn't do. I can't create a true "Club Fed" prison where my prisoners are kept happy with bars, golf courses, and accredited junior college classes, for instance. Just because it's a maximum security prison doesn't mean its a gritty "pound me in the ass" prison (speaking of which, there is no prison rape, despite what some glitches pre-release suggested otherwise). You can also build women's prisons (which present their own challenges, like family rooms for women with children) but you cannot create co-ed prisons, nor any other elaborate execution methods. The choice you have for execution is the chair. There's no hanging, no firing squads, no lethal injection (the method of choice for most executions in the U.S.), gas chambers (yes, that is a legal method of execution in the United States too), or more "interesting" methods that would be frowned upon today. And unfortunately for the more sadistic players out there, the in-game execution process is long and tedious (you have to get a death penalty prisoner to even start the process), you can't just send problematic prisoners to their demise.

I put a lot of time into Prison Architect (probably the most addictive I've played, racking up 80 hours in a breathtakingly short time, at least compared to my other games) and during that time, Version 2.0 was released which made a few functional changes (not necessarily for the better, but it did fix a number of bugs). This was supposed to be the last "major" change but months later the devs released an update that made you add nice things for the employees of your prisons, which no doubt screwed up some of the more tightly-designed prisons on the Steam Workshop. I haven't checked if there's a mod to fix that, but I hope there is. Making your game harder by default without adding anything else is a pretty lame move on the developers' part.