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Game Review

Are you a fan of management simulators? You know, games that cast you as a kingpin with the wherewithal to build bustling sim cities, thriving banana republics or, say, a multi-attraction zoo? If so, then you may have been thinking about picking up a game called Prison Architect. It's gotten good reviews. And it certainly has an interesting look.

But wait, why does this prison-building simulation earn an M-rating?

Well, let's find out.

Maximum Security, Maximum Responsibility

Prison Architect is a complicated, challenging game that gives players the responsibility of building and running a self-reliant prison complex. This sim uses a 2-D, top-down layout where the prison cells and facilities must be built, the water must be kept running, the floors must be mopped, the riots must be quelled and the murderers must be dealt with.

You're responsible for taking care of the prisoners' recreation and hygiene, as well as hiring and assigning staff members such as the warden, guards and doctors. Those things and much, much more all fall to you. And every detail matters.

In addition to building and hiring, you've got to balance the limited funds (thanks to a budget-cutting bureaucracy). And if all that isn't difficult enough, you've also got to strive for actually turning a profit with your facility. So do you spend a few extra bucks on buying that license plate printer or getting new TVs to placate a grumbling prison populace? Should you pony up for that new electric chair that the governor really wants up and humming?

Quite frankly, if you simply jump into this game with both work boots, you'll be floundering about wondering what to do and overwhelmed with prisoner riots in no time. That's why the game tutors you slowly through a five-part campaign story mode.

Things Ain't Pretty Behind Bars

This campaign is also where you start to realize that Prison Architect is more than just a keep-the-trains-running-on-time simulator. As it eases you into the minutia of prison management, the game provides story details about your prisoners and their world.

We meet a former teacher early on, for instance, who's on death row for murdering his wife after catching her with another man. The game shows us a sketched out, partially nude snapshot of the cheating pair in bed and lets us listen to their moaning passions. It also catches the red splotches of blood as the teacher draws his gun and fires away.

On the other hand, we're asked to consider the teacher's repentant actions afterward as he stumbles into his local church and breaks down in admission of his guilt. "God will forgive your sins," the priest tells the man, "But you must face up to your crimes." Other criminal stories involve mob bosses, cocaine sales, arson, and bloody murders in prison bathrooms. Snapshots of these narratives depict dripping head wounds, torture and stabbings.

Prison language is predictably foul. We hear f- and s-words as well as other profanities. And even though the in-game characters are like blocky construction paper cut-outs that your 5-year-old might craft, a secreted-away blade or gun will still splatter the prison walls with the red goop of carnage.

Now, it could be said that all of this nastiness is the game's attempt to encourage gamers to consider the moral complexities of managing those who've made tragically immoral choices. Prison Architect pulls no punches, giving players grim insight into prison life, even as they build walls and take thoughtful steps to keep the rest of the world safe.

But amid all of this prison simulation's would-be moralizing, players still must muddle through a lot of messy, M-rated material.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes



Readability Age Range









Record Label


Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC


Introversion Software


June 28, 2016

On Video

Year Published



Bob Hoose

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