Prison Life – What We Think
Spending time in prison must be harsh. Video games have not really explored the idea of playing as a prisoner. It must be a difficult subject to represent in a game because it’s so complex and probably wouldn’t be a fun experience. Prison Life RPG, an iOS game by Nob Studio, aims to change that by offering a satirical game about life as a prisoner.
When you start the game, you can choose which prisoner you want to play as they live out their sentence. The goal of the game is to either survive your sentence or find a way out of prison before your sentence ends. Each prisoner has different attributes and skills and is clearly skewed to a certain type of play style. Some characters are physically strong and might have an intimidation skill. Other prisoners might have the “Kiss Ass” skill, which helps in building relationships with other prisoners or getting out of being bullied.
What skills a character has at the get-go will affect your experience with the game, so choosing a character with useful skills is important. The only way to learn which skills are more useful than others is by trial and error, which is not bad since the in-game days move along fairly quickly. Once you learn which skills are more useful, the game starts to get a little easier, since you have an idea of what you need to do to survive.
Multitasking is the New Black
Prison Life RPG is not an easy game; it’s a tough and often frustrating one because of how punishing it is and because of the main mechanic it utilizes. The success of every action in this game is determined by dice rolls. Each action has more of a chance to succeed if you have high attributes and skills that relate to the action. For instance, when you want to talk to another prisoner and you have the “Joker” skill, it’ll give you a +3 bonus to the dice roll. Most actions that involve other prisoners just require that you roll a number higher than theirs. If you’re being bullied by a strong and intimidating inmate, your chances of rolling a higher number are slim.
The game can get punishing because it always seems like it’s trying to make things more difficult. Not only do you have to deal with other prisoners bullying you, but you also have to manage three important bars in the game. Besides the standard Health bar, you also have a Happiness bar – which if too low will cause your character to commit suicide – and an Energy bar, which depletes a little bit after any action you choose to do. After you are bullied or have a bad dream, these bars can be affected significantly. There are ways to restore them by eating food or watching television, but even those actions require that you have money.
Thugs, Not Hugs
Money is relatively hard to come by unless you have the skills to bully other prisoners and take theirs. An honest way to gain money is by working at your prison job. The bad thing about this is that even after you spent the whole day working, most of your money can be easily taken away by other prisoners. Being bullied by other prisoners is unavoidable and happens on a daily basis; there is a way to counteract it, but you must have good socially skewed skills and have built a good relationship with the prisoner who is bullying you.
Building relationships with all of the prisoners is futile, because there are just too many. It would have been better if social skills helped more when it came to bullying, because oftentimes it’s annoying and frustrating.
There are so many systems in place in the game. You can learn new skills from other prisoners, which is very helpful and necessary if you want to survive. You can recruit prisoners to help you escape and make prison life a little more friendly. You can gamble, bet, bribe guards, join a gang, craft, use the phone to contact your lawyer or significant other for help. These systems are done well and give you more to do, but the game never fully takes advantage of them.
Pshaw! All Shank, No Redemption
The moment to moment gameplay feels a little too restrictive and unfulfilling because of how punishing it is. Most of the time these systems are buried under the task of just trying to survive the day to day bullying from other prisoners and managing your character’s bars. If the game was balanced more to accommodate a less frustrating experience, it would have made it a lot more enjoyable.
I understand the idea of making this game difficult to somewhat simulate what life in prison is like through its mechanics, but this game is wrapped around questionable, cartoonish humor that will really turn people off. The writing and everything about this game’s tone feels juvenile and crass. Every single day cycle of this game you have to roll to make sure you don’t drop the soap, and if you fail to pick it up in time, the game insinuates that your character was anally raped. It’s all presented like a joke, as a funny thing that happens to your character. I was surprise how tactlessly this was presented, and I honestly was shocked that this was a part of the game.
Aye, Predictable Riot
The game’s tone and writing really turned me off. I never personally found it funny or entertaining. I’m sure if you’re into that type of crude humor you’d get a kick out of it, but be warned, because this crassness shows up occasionally.
The visuals reflect its tone and feel inspired by South Park. The prisoners look big-headed and somewhat exaggerated. There are plenty of nods to other games, movies and television shows, but I wish characters were animated more expressively to make the game more interesting to look at.
Break This Rusty Cage and Run
Prison Life RPG is a game that feels like it could have been a lot better. Many of the more interesting mechanics are buried under the frustrating moment to moment gameplay. It fails to be as engaging as it needs to be to keep you coming back for more. Its crass tone and dice-rolling mechanic can be really off-putting. With all that aside, Prison Life RPG is an okay experience to kill some time on your iPad, but don’t expect to get a satisfying gameplay experience out of it.
Watch the trailer for Prison Life RPG below: