Prison Architect is a building/simulation game that revolves around the prison industry. You are given plenty of freedom with regards to how you manage your prison. You can build a relaxing minimum security prison focused on reform, or you can choose to only house the most violent prisoners and run your prison with an iron fist. Both are viable choices, as well as going with a blend of both.
The gameplay itself focuses on starting small while slowly expanding towards whatever goals you set for yourself. It has a very satisfying progression as you get farther into the game, thanks to the wide variety of systems you can setup, such as schools, workshops, and even your own death row. They all have positives and negatives that you will be forced to try and balance. For example, building a workshop for your prisoners to work in will generate money, but it will give prisoners access to weapons and tools that they normally wouldn’t, resulting in the spread of contraband. There are numerous other systems with similar levels of depth throughout the game. It gives the game that addictive quality where you are always progressing, unlocking a new thing to try out, giving it a try, then realizing you unlocked something else to try. Next thing you know, you’ve been playing for hours without even noticing. It’s a truly fantastic gameplay loop and easily the game’s strong point.
Graphically, the game looks good for such a basic style. Animations are terrible, but they fit the look of the graphics, so it all winds up working out. The visual clarity is good, so even when you first start, it’s relatively easy to understand what’s going on. The UI feels a bit bloated at times, but becomes a lot more usable once you begin to learn where everything is.
There are some light story elements, but it tends to feel tacked on and adds little to the game as a whole. Playing the game as a sandbox prison simulator is it’s strong suit. It offers a ton of freedom and a range of possibilities, without losing a sense of direction and purpose. Highly recommended for fans of management/tycoon games who are at least mildly interested in the setting.