Simulating life behind bars may not immediately come to mind when looking for a fun gaming activity, but with it comes the glamorized thrill of survival, conflict, and of course, escape.
The following games allow the player to embrace the world of the prosecuted through the criminal eyes of the condemned or with the strong hand of the law.
Whether you want to build your prison fortress and maintain peace in a world of daily violence or plan and escape from your captivity, the ensuing list gives you the options to make that felonious fantasy a reality.
Sometimes games need to be praised for the frustration that they invoke in the player and Prisoner is one such game. A simple platformer at heart, Prisoner has that ‘bang your head on the wall in exasperation’ quality to it. But with great exasperation comes great reward and the gratification of finally making it through another gauntlet is exhilarating in its payoff.
You play a prisoner trying to escape a maximum-security prison, with lasers, blades and portals awaiting your inevitable demise. Seemingly inspired by the ‘Cube’ movies, this is an old-school platformer that requires patience and a steady hand to overcome its difficulty.
Graphically Prisoner is intentionally stripped-back and onscreen actions amount to nothing more than jumping, falling off platforms and activating buttons. The game’s hypnotic, soundtrack and subdued lighting add to its allure.
2. Hard Time
As the title implies, doing time doesn’t get much tougher than in prison simulator Hard Time. In a dystopian future filled with more criminals than citizens, absolute mayhem ensues on a daily basis. Hilarious and ludicrous events (such as being prosecuted for pronouncing the letter ‘P’ silently or building a Death Star) take place constantly inside this manic prison, where your every move is monitored and your every choice paves a new path for your stretch inside.
Not a game for the easily offended, Hard Time isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of decency. The aim is to make it through your sentence alive but that is no easy task when everything around you is a potential weapon and everyone a likely enemy.
Like a depraved version of The Sims, you build your stats and reputation in order to survive and keep other inmates on your good side. But with temptation ever-looming, you’ll soon be suplexing prison guards through pool tables and putting dynamite in bunks.
3. Prison Simulator
In Prison Simulator you take on the grueling role of a prison guard acting out your day-to-day duties in an increasingly hostile and demanding environment. With only 30 days left until you move on to your dream job, fate unsurprisingly decrees that your last month will be anything but easy.
Like a virtual Zimbardo Experiment, players can choose the type of guard they want to be. You can be forceful and underhanded or play by the rules. Visually the game is suitably gloomy; your screen is filled with shades of grey and orange as concrete walls and uniform convicts saturate your peripheral.
The game strives to force a balance between keeping management and inmates happy but choices can be made to lean further one way than the other. Accepting bribes over payroll and searching for, or ignoring, contraband are among many judgments you will make. Just remember that your decisions always have consequences…
4. The Suffering
The Suffering takes the prison setting and makes it an even more dismal and terrifying place. Replacing fellow jailbirds with demonic monsters, the game is filled with disturbing creatures that stalk your every move.
This heart-thumping game is filled with macabre twists and turns that eventually lead to three different endings depending on your choices throughout. As you attempt to flee the demonic island penitentiary, you dispatch the knife-limbed monstrosities in either first or third person, utilizing the power of your discovered arsenal and literal inner demon.
The game is a morbid, blood-soaked nightmare with plenty of hidden gems and horrors to get you through this dreadful goal.
5. The Escapists 2
Platforms: PC, Switch, PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Xbox Series
The Escapists 2 is another prison game that revolves around planning and escape. Again we have to carefully organize the tools and accomplices needed to flee while systematically maintaining everyday prison routines.
With the sequel comes a more diverse variety of cell environments to escape from and the mechanics and A.I. are greatly improved. No longer is the guards’ attention solely on you and changeable events around the prison now have a tangible effect on the narrative. The cartoony top-down visuals add a whimsical value to the otherwise bleak scenario, adding welcome light-relief as you steal and shank your way to freedom.
The ability to choose the exact manner in which you break free gives the player fresh insight into the thought process of the incarcerated and allows you to empathize, as much as is feasible, with the plight of a 16-bit prison escapee.
6. A Way Out
Platforms: PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Xbox Series
This exclusively co-op offering gives you and your comrade a first-hand chance to experience a jailbreak in a playable, cinematic format. A Way Out plays like a buddy movie that you manipulate and guide to one of two endings.
Both an action and exploration game, your two felonious characters sculpt and fight their way to a daring escape. Many parts of the game are essentially playable, linear cutscenes masked by the illusion of control.
Other times you both simultaneously openly roam the prison looking for the contacts and paraphernalia needed to make your goal possible, all the while peaking across the split-screen to see what trouble your partner might be in. A Way Out might not have the best script of any game out there but the enjoyment gained from the cooperative element gives it a unique and exciting quality.
7. Prison Architect
Platforms: PC, Switch, PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Xbox Series
Prison Architect takes all possible elements from the slammer and combines them into a mass of comical, riotous pandemonium. A sandbox game in principle, but with a short campaign mode, Prison Architect drives you to plan and build the perfect prison system whilst concurrently keeping your own pockets filled.
As the Warden of this criminal establishment, it is down to you to keep the occupants safe, content and subdued. The complexity of the game is indicative of the detail and customization it offers. Inspired by games like Theme Hospital and Dwarf Fortress, it’s a deep prison management sim whose systems will generate all kinds of stories.
It sees you intricately design your perfect prison down to the very last detail, whilst the individual characters and personalities make their presence known in unpredictable and highly-disruptive ways. It’s up to you to deal with them ‘appropriately’ to ensure that everyone really knows who is boss.
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