I’m starting a new type of post that covers previews of current games that are in their paid “Alpha” stage. As such, I will only comment on the currently implemented features and game as it stands, and will not comment on any bug, no matter how screen smashingly infuriating they are. Unless they’re funny. Funny is always good. Hence: Alpha Alert. And I’ll endeavor to cover each game after a certain set of alphas have been released, as some tend to update very quickly, whilst others have a slower boiling point. Either way, I’m here to tell you whether you should or should not buy into a game in its current state. Once again, I’m not affiliated with any studio or other website, I don’t get paid to be a grumpy bastard by anyone. Nor am I currently in the role of “Person who gets sent games for free in order to review” (Although I wouldn’t complain…). So I’m living on bean on toast to help you decide whether an alpha project is worth doing the same for.
Prison Architect, guess what it’s about? Yes, I’ve bought my name into the game, call me a corporate shill all you want. But with Introversion being the developers (Also behind the likes of Uplink, The incredibly awesome Darwinia and Defcon, as well as the cancelled/hiatus-fodder Subversion), I couldn’t resist. It’s about time someone did a new “Tycoon” style game that didn’t get shanked in the kidneys as soon as that label turned into a cash cow. And now we’re onto Alpha 11, freshly off the (workshop) presses and into the eager backers hands.
Of course, the game is about building, managing and running your prison. Which plays out in a way VERY similar (not an insult by any means) manner to the Bullfrog games of old, with a nice pinch of Dwarf Fortress thrown in for good measure. In this, you design the buildings in which your prisoners live, work and feed, whilst also assigning the appropriate staff (Guards, Chefs, Workmen and Doctors etc) to overview your sickeningly cute convicts. The felonious fellows in question being, of course, beyond your direct control and subject to their own needs (Knives! Drills! Escape! Muahaha!) and desires. It’s your job to keep them content and serve their time in peace.
Inevitably this can lead to minor fights, or even major riots on your first few tries (A personal favourite of mine involved my circle-handed inmates starting a riot because they didn’t have a set of clean y-fronts. This has since been fixed, and I cried shallow tears into my crooked gamer-claws) but the intuitive nature of the “Needs” (Viewed by clicking on an inmate, or hiring a psychiatrist for an overview of the population) means you can quickly figure out what to build.
Building itself has undergone a bit of work since the first Alpha last year, now presenting a smoother way of planning (A tool is included for drawing grids to plan out layout designs, and is a big time saver for symmetrical prisons) and building. other updates include the ability to assign jobs to prisoner. Previously, the “Workshop” room served as a placeholder for making quick cash, whilst the prisoners themselves never actually needed to use them. That’s gone now, with the workshop serving as the source of the worlds number plates (licence plates). On top of this you can assign your prisoners to work in the laundry (Fresh underwear, YAY!), Kitchen (Stabby implements abound) or cleaning room (….Can’t think of something amusing for that one…). Which admittedly takes a load off of your budget if you can’t splash on janitors of chefs, especially in the face a starving, filthy populace.
Impressively, each building requires some form or power or water system to function. All of which is modelled in a very geeky simulation. By this, I mean water pressure needs to be consistent (Big pipes have lot of pressure, small pipes only carry so far..), whilst connecting power from one generator to another causes a short out, leaving your prisoners in the dark (Ba dum tish). For larger prisons, modelling the wiring and piping of your empire is just as important as the layout itself, failure to do so resulting in dry toilets (I didn’t really want to check out if they still pooped in these…) or showers of nothing, resulting in cutesy pixel bum cracks standing under a shower head wondering why nothing’s happening. (Yes the pixel bum cracks are a thing. Avoid the obvious observations, thankfully that doesn’t happen here.
That’s just the overview of the game, sounds good, yeah? Well, each update offers new features being implemented. Introversion have wisely decided not to give a full release date, and have justified their current alpha price model. As such, the latest Alpha (11 at the time of writing) implements a few new features, whilst concentrating more on the bug blasting and performance enhancements. Among these, “Prisoner Release” is the big one, paving the way for future plans. It’d be nice to have a small pop up, maybe in the corner, that prisoner “Cocks” or so is being released (Yes, that’s a real name in the game, I laughed too but I have the sense of humour of a six year old) rather than panicking blindly because some little sod has walked out of the front gate and is giving me the finger on his way to freedom. Hearses have also been introduced, which is a blessing after last releases “Riot” update, now that the fleshy little meat sacks can clear out my bloody morgue, rather than stinking the place up for eternity.
I have also noticed a big performance increase at normal speeds when running a larger prison. However, during construction whilst at higher speeds a memory leak does occur on my machine. I’ve no doubt, knowing the speed at which the guys at IV work and nail down issues like this, that it’ll be fixed at some point. But there’s definitely an improvement to overall gameplay speeds in the larger maps, which is great now they’ve added in the ability to buy more land from either side.
Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend buying into the Alpha. I’ve heard many a complaint such as “Price is too high” (Hint: They want players interested in the game, who are willing to give them feedback. Plus, for £20, it’s more game than you’ll get in most places. At least it’s not Walletary Annihilation money we’re talking here), or “It looks like an iPad game!” (….Get out.) So yeah, I may be a bit grumpy about this game for it’s premise (Which has caused it’s own controversy that is talked about on sites more qualified than here.) not having been done nearly as well before, coupled with the fact my own prison on the Steam workshop only having two comments coupled with over a hundred downloads (Yes, I know it sucks, at least tell me as much you pussies). But, for a management game that harkens back to the days when those types were enjoyable. I recommend looking into Prison Architect.
You can enter the alpha Here (Which includes all the tiers, such as getting your name, or even your face into the game for me to lock into a room, as well as a Steam key), and is also available on Steam Early Access. The funniest bugs are also covered on Introversions twitter, for added hilarity.