Prison Architect: Going Green review: Stardew Valley Detention Center

by Lars
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Prison Architect: Going Green is the latest bit of DLC for Double Eleven‘s hit prison management sim, kitting the game out with all the necessary tools to create eco-friendly, self-sustaining prisons. It’s a far cry from my first Prison Architect experience, which was basically a cash-for-death execution factory that wouldn’t look out of place in World’s Toughest Prisons. This time I’ve set out with much nobler intentions – I’m going to teach these rascally murderers how to grow their own carrots, and they’d best be pleased about it.

This is a really, really neat idea for an expansion. Prison Architect has always liked to take little shots at the real world prison system – the opening level of the base campaign makes that abundantly clear from the off – and Going Green continues in that vein. You can build special rooms to enable prisoners to grow their own crops and power everything with wind energy, slicing your maintenance costs. It all sounds very altruistic, doesn’t it? Going Green is just as keen to remind you that you can sell excess power back to the national grid, and export crops out for further profit. And so the game continues to walk that fine line between prisoner welfare and financial realities.

Going Green

Well, I think, ever-willing to exploit the incarcerated for fiscal gain, this idea’s got legs. The image of a convicted killer turning up for his life sentence only to be greeted with everybody delicately tending to herb gardens is fantastic. “Welcome to prison. Here’s your jumpsuit and a seasonal seed packet to get you started.” One hastily built detention facility later, I was ready to get to work. Or, rather, I was ready to put the recently imprisoned to work. It’s a satisfying new challenge, integrated well with the core game – you’re offered “green” specific grants to work towards which smoothly introduce you to the new features.

The odd thing about Prison Architect is that it can be strangely relaxing. Once you’ve built up a secure facility, you’re meeting everyone’s needs, and you’re fairly confident nobody’s got a shiv hidden behind the toilet, it gets into a certain rhythm that’s perfectly fun just to sit back and watch. Adding farming features to the mix just enhances that tenfold, bringing to mind what would happen if Stardew Valley gave you the option to enslave all of the townsfolk. Going Green really does offer you a whole new way to play.

It’s not all fields of green, though. With new facilities available to your prisoners comes new avenues of exploitation. Inmates can tamper with crops to produce narcotics and booze – presumably brewed in a relatively clean toilet. Fields can become gang turf, consumed with violence presumably over clashing potato-based passion. The expansion overlays on Prison Architect‘s existing systems with finesse, adding another layer but never overcomplicating things. From my experience so far it’s probably best to start an entirely new prison, purpose built to go green, as making profit will probably require a decent amount of space.

If you’re not a fan of Prison Architect already, this might not change your mind, but the extra dimension added to the game with Going Green is not to be overlooked. Long-time lovers of the prison-management sim will find plenty of opportunities for growth within this rich expansion, and with the base game currently free to play on Steam (not to mention coming to Xbox Game Pass) it’s the perfect time to give it a try. Will you support your inmate’s wellbeing by letting them grow flowers and bond over a love of nature? Or are you going to put those jumpsuited little blobs to work? Those carrots aren’t gonna harvest themselves.

Prison Architect: Going Green is available now on… basically everything, really. Check out the free weekend on Steam here and find more of our game reviews here.

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