Don’t let the aesthetics fool you, Prison Architect may look jolly and light hearted but there’s some dark storytelling and concepts explored here. It’s a bit tonally inconsistent but certainly proves to be a fun and fascinating management game.

In Prison Architect you, unsurprisingly, build and manage prisons. This involves building cells, offices, power rooms, showers, execution chambers and every other structure within the prison; as well as ensuring the facility is powered, has running water, and that each room is equipped and furnished. This is alongside managing your budget, researching and implementing programs to help rehabilitate and care for your inmates, hiring guards, quelling riots, searching cells and plenty more. It’s a comprehensive management game that covers every aspect of running a prison.

This can be overwhelming, and if you jump straight into the sandbox mode you’ll struggle to make progress. However, jump in to Prison Stories and you’ll be eased in with a set of narrative driven tutorials that teach you how to build and run a prison. These tutorials follow a connected story told over multiple parts and quickly introduce you to the darker side of this management title, exploring prisons in a surprisingly in-depth way.

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Prison Architect often throws its darker side to the forefront, with each inmate possessing a unique rap sheet and set of requirements that would best suit them during their incarceration. And with riots, prison violence, and death row inmates, you’re often put in the position of executing prisoners, placing them in solitary, turning out their cells, and even authorising lethal force to maintain control. Additionally, as your prison grows and the budget tightens, you’re forced to make decisions on how to manage what you offer your inmates; making decisions on what, if any, programs you support to help rehabilitate and care for them. It’s an involved management title that interestingly explores how easy it is for a person to become a number.

In addition to Prison Stories and the sandbox mode, you can also jump in and manage pre-built prisons, if you don’t fancy building one from scratch. Currently ten pre-built prisons are available to manage, but the World of Wardens mode is due to be updated in the near future with the ability to submit prisons of your own creation as well as play those built by other players.

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With the tutorial under your belt, running, building and upgrading prisons becomes fairly intuitive and engaging; there’s always something to aim for and do and the prisoners are intractable enough to encourage your vigilance in keeping on top of things. However, there are a few bugs present that can break your immersion, such as audio cutting out and workers getting stuck and being unable to complete construction. Of course this is still in the Preview Program, so the odd bug is to be expected.

Indeed Prison Architect is a fun and engrossing management title, one that explores the concept of prison life in a deeper way than you may expect. The tone feels a little ‘off’ due to the cartoon aesthetic but despite the darker side there’s still a great deal of fun to be had managing the many aspects of a prison. I can’t wait to see the full release this spring.

Thanks to Xbox and Double Eleven for supporting TiX