I picked up Prison Architect as part of the Humble Indie Bundle 12. I've given it a quick spin to help you decide if it is worth playing the current early access build of the game.
Prison Architect, currently in early access, has been proclaimed by many as early access done right. I'm not a huge fan of early access myself, I find paying a premium price, to beta test a game, with no guarantee of a complete product, isn't really for me. But when the Humble Indie Bundle 12 offered Prison Architect, along with other quality titles, for ten dollars, I just couldn't resist.
I'm happy to confirm that the praise Prison Architect has been receiving is well deserved. It is a completely playable and enjoyable experience in its current state, but there is still a lot of fleshing out to do to make it a full title worth a $30 price tag.
Prison Architect has a limited introduction that covers some basic game-play concepts, but does not have a full tutorial. Be prepared to Google various game mechanics, rooms, and jobs, to understand how to play successfully. It took me around an hour of reading forums and wikis to gain enough knowledge about the game to be comfortable playing it. I still need to learn the more advanced concepts, by I am able to start to learn them by experimenting now.
Experimenting is a huge chunk of the fun of Prison Architect as your mistakes usually end up causing unpredictable mayhem. For example, my first jail wasn't very secure, and I wasn't treating the prisoners well at all, and because of these factors, things went downhill fast. Somehow, the prison population managed to get some items that allowed them to light the lunch-room on fire, and then they used tools to break the prison walls down. The result of the fire and broken walls allowed the whole prison population to escape. The riot burnt my prison to the ground and killed all of my staff. I wasn't even mad, it was fun to see how my bad decisions led to a complete meltdown, and moved forward with some hard lessons for my second prison.
With my second prison, I've went with the plan to hire an excess of security personal to keep prisoners in check. The plan is working, but god, my prison is the most depressing hell-hole on the face of the earth. Major riots occur every few days, everything is covered with filth and blood, prisoners haven't even had the luxury of getting fresh clothes in weeks. This makes for angry inmates, but when the population starts to act up, my armed guards start shooting, and after a few prisoner's have been shot, things quiet down quickly. There has been no fires, and better yet, no escapes. On the down side I can't say there has been no casualties, many staff have paid the ultimate price to maintain prison security. As most of the operating budget goes into security, I don't have much money left over to pay for proper cleaning, food, and amenities to keep people happy. I've built up to about 100 prisoners currently so it will be interesting to see how long I can keep things under control.
The game features a good amount of rooms to build, but I've found that the options for personalizing and designing the prison is a bit limited at the moment. Thankfully the developer is actively working on the game and things seem to be added monthly to keep the experience fresh. I have encountered a few bugs during my playtime, but nothing major. I've had annoying little things happen such as doors not installing properly, and purchased infrastructure stuck in limbo and not being installed. The bugs are rare, and even in the game's alpha state, it is completely playable.
Be aware, the game is pretty much a sandbox, there isn't a campaign mode or missions to play, but free-play does provides you with objectives called grants that earn you extra money and teach you various concepts.
Price-wise, 30 bucks seems a little much for the current status of the game, but it is an investment on the game as it is under active development. I'm very happy with the 10 bucks I spent on it and the rest of the humble bundle package. Stay tuned for an official review once the game is released.