Anti-Valentine reviews PC games and writes about the video game industry.
1. Prison Architect
The game Prison Architect is finally finished, out of alpha—and while it still has its bugs, it is mostly complete. This made me think of other games that are based in prison, and so led me to create this best of list: top games based in (or that feature at least partially) prison.
This game isn’t as unique as you think, seeing as there are already other prison tycoon titles available, but I will say that out of the bunch, this is the best. Naturally, as the title suggests, you are placed in charge of building and maintaining a prison—and it turns out that it’s a lot harder than one might think. Who would’ve thought?
From building all the different rooms needed, to hiring staff, to managing prisoners’ activities and more, it really does go in depth. It’s like Sim City meets Prison Break, and it really is about the best simulator type game I’ve played in years.
2. Duke Nukem II
Duke finds himself on Oprah trying to plug his new book, fresh after defeating the evil Dr. Proton. Suddenly he is abducted by an alien race—the Rigelatins. Duke is placed in a cell but has a plan—an explosive molar which he manages to dislodge, so he blows the bars right off of his cell and escapes.
From there, he has to battle against the Rigelatin guards as well as robotic spiders and other weird experiments aboard the massive space ship as he eventually gets to the main boss right at the end and dispatches him once and for all before managing to escape back to earth.
3. Duke Nukem 3D
Duke is called in to deal with a new threat—the Cycloid Emperor and his minions, a bunch of reptilian-looking creatures who have plans to take over the earth and enslave the women, probably so they might give birth to more alien creatures. Duke has a problem with aliens trying to steal his chicks, so he sets out to combat the threat, but before he gets too far, he winds up walking into a trap and being captured by the aliens and placed on Death Row.
He starts off the level in the electric chair but manages to escape and eventually get out of the prison, and on to a nuclear submarine that just happens to be waiting outside in a body of water. Can’t possibly be another trap, can it?
4. Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
This is probably the premiere prison game available. It’s certainly about the best I’ve ever played. You take the role of Riddick, a notorious convict who is being transported to Butcher Bay, a seemingly inescapable maximum security prison. Most of the game will see you trying to survive not only being shot at by guards but being killed by your fellow inmates as well. After nearly escaping once, Riddick is sent to double max, which is an even harsher place, and eventually even succeeds in getting himself placed in cryonic sleep—reserved for only the most troublesome prisoners.
The game worked so well because it wasn’t just a film tie-in like most games of its type—it was a prequel to the events of the first film, Pitch Black, and was overseen by Vin Diesel himself. The gameplay was actually excellent for its time. The game received a graphical overhaul years later when it was packaged together with Assault on Dark Athena.
5. Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas
First off, this title is worse in just about every way than the original Die Hard trilogy, but a sizeable part of it has to do with a prison break, and John McClane is called in to help sort it out. Despite his efforts, some of the convicts are able to escape, and John has to try and hunt the rest of them down and kill them.
The game starts off on board the Vortex Rikers penal colony ship traveling through space—but things hit a snag when the ship crashes on an alien world. You are the only survivor of the crash, and you manage to make it outside the vessel, only to find yourself in the most beautiful place you’ve ever clapped eyes on: Na Pali.
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But things aren’t peaceful here. The local flora and fauna prove to be extremely dangerous, and you are tasked with making it off of the planet ASAP. It isn’t all that simple though as you are then taken through many hours of gameplay, where you’ll visit all number of strange, exotic locations, all while killing the local inhabitants until finally you make it off the planet in an escape pod—only to find yourself drifting in space.
In the expansion, the pod ends up going back to the surface of Na Pali, and you once again have to get off the place once and for all.
7. Thief: The Dark Project
The game, right in its second mission, throws you into one of the scariest missions in the game, where you have to visit Cragscleft Prison in order to spring your fence, Cutty, who owes you money. The place is housed in an abandoned mine in a mountainside, which is not only inhabited by zombies but also Hammerites—religious fanatics who wouldn’t be so scary if they didn’t carry around 20-pound hammers looking to smite intruders.
As Garrett, you have to sneak in, get Cutty out, only to see him die right in front of you. No matter, your friend Basso the Boxman is in here too, so getting him out is better than nothing. Then you have to make it to the cathedral on the next level and steal some items from the head monk at the outpost before making your escape.
It’s all very tense stuff, and Garrett is no match for the Hammerites in combat, so sneaking about and staying in the shadows is the way to go.
8. Thief II: The Metal Age
In the third mission, Garrett heads in to Shoalsgate Station, which isn’t a prison as such, but it does have cells that house prisoners and also present is a torture chamber. Garrett has to sneak in and retrieve some evidence, all while evading the watchful eye of the City Watch, who are under the control of Sheriff Gorman Truart, a corrupt city official who gets his later on in the game, don’t worry.
After this mission, Garrett becomes a hunted man as the City Watch are after him. It seems as though he might have been framed or set up in his latest escapade, and the Watch are only too keen to bring him in. Who tipped them off—seeing as Garrett being the master thief that he is, was not seen by anyone while in Shoalsgate. At this point, a much larger conspiracy starts to unravel, and Garrett is right in the thick of it.
9. Thief: Deadly Shadows
You think I’m going to mention the Shalebridge cradle here—well, you’re wrong. If Garrett gets “killed” by the City Watch while in the city, he will end up being thrown in Pavelock—the local prison. When he comes to, he’ll be confronted by a warden who has no love for him, and on top of that, he will have lost all his gear, which he has to go and find from the evidence locker. Eventually, Garrett managed to make it out of Pavelock and back on the streets. It’s pretty much like this every time you get killed in the city. Note that if you die while on an actual mission, you will stay dead and not be transported to Pavelock.
10. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
They say that virtually every Elder Scrolls game starts off the same way, with you as a convict. Morrowind has you aboard a ship that docks at Seyda Neen, where you are given an official pardon. Yet I don't think most Elder Scrolls titles explored it in as much depth as perhaps did Oblivion.
You start off a prison cell, and after being mocked by a Dunmer in the cell across the way, you are interrupted by the King and a handful of knights as they crash in to your cell—there's a secret way out of the city, through the sewers, and the entrance is here in your cell. To think, all that time that you've been sitting there...
Anyhow, on your journey through the underground, the caves beneath the city, and eventually the sewers, you get to kill assassins, take their armour, choose your starting, and all that other usual RPG stuff, before eventually making it out. For helping the king, you are essentially given a pardon—of course, it helps that he saw you in his dreams, and trusts in you enough to give you a letter which you have to take to parish outside the city, in your quest to find the king's son, and hold off the forces of Oblivion which would spell doom for Tamriel and pretty much anywhere else.
Of course, if you end up breaking the law while and caught, you may be sent back to prison, and you'll have to escape.
There's also a quest if you join the Dark Brotherhood, an assassin's guild, later on when you get to Cheydinhal, where you can actually make it back inside the prison in order to kill that Dunmer who mocked you at the beginning of the game. Cool.
11. Quake II
Bitterman, the player character lands on the surface of Stroggos, a planet home to a whole host of cybernetic horrors hellbent on killing and recycling humanity to help build their unholy army.
Bitterman does necessarily escape from jail himself, but he does spend a large amount of time in a hub containing a detention centre, torture chambers, and execution rooms, as well as yet another interrogation centre later on in the game as well. It is in these places that he witnesses some of the cruelest acts that the Strogg commit towards his fellow man, the only section worse being the factory levels where he gets to see first hand how Stroggs are actually made.
Nick Vrenna is falsely accused of a crime and sent to a prison where staff are conducting experiments on the inmates. A riot breaks out and the experiments that have taken place have horrible consequences as the inmates turn into vicious monsters. Nick arms himself, obviously from the prison armory and embarks on a journey through the facility, to try and survive the onslaught of monsters, as well as stop the infection, called Abuse, from reaching the population outside of the prison.
13. The Witcher
After seemingly running wild on the outskirts of Vizima, once Geralt gets inside the gates to the city, he does end up spending a spell inside a holding cell with other prisoners after being busted by the Captain of the Watch.
He is however released from jail after he helps to eradicate a problem in the dungeon involving prisoners disappearing, and subsequently being eaten by the cockatrice. Geralt along with a knight ends up killing the cockatrice and a horde of other sewer-dwelling creatures before earning the right to leave prison and explore the city.
Geralt also spent some time in prison in The Witcher 2 for the crime of king slaying, and was in an even worse state, in a cell by himself, even in chains, which he managed to escape from, before making his way out of the dungeon.
14. Arx Fatalis
You start off as a prisoner, being held in an underground jail guarded by goblins. You and another prisoner make your escape, and from there you end up battling your way out of the prison, before obtaining some papers from another inmate that allow you to pose as a gem dealer, which grants you access to the mines and other areas above. Once you get out of these dark, dank places, you get to the city of Arx, which is in fact itself underground. It turns out that the surface world is uninhabitable and so everyone took to living in massive mines beneath the ground.
15. Dungeon Keeper
This is the game that most if not all prison tycoon games are derived from.
As the name suggests, you manage a hellish dungeon, filled with all sorts of demonic creatures, and your job is run the place efficiently while battling heroes who attempt to invade.
Naturally, it was popular, so much so that it received a sequel.
16. Wolfenstein 3D
Captain BJ Blazkowicz, a Polish American soldier is captured and put in Castle Wolfenstein, and the whole point of the first episode is to escape it. You take the role as the player as you go from level to level finding the exit, and going about some rather mundane activities like shooting guards, finding keys, and collecting treasure all the way until you eventually make it out, only to embark on a quest to single-handedly take down some of the key figures of the Nazi Reich, including Adolf Hitler himself!
This whole escape business was revisited in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, yet the affair of escaping from your prison cell after knifing one of the guards and making it out of the castle was far less drawn out than last time. And at least they didn't make you wear those silly grey blood-stained prisoner clothes like in the first outing.
17. Metal Gear Solid
Torture and imprisonment are common in this series, and in the third official entry in the series, Solid Snake while on Shadow Moses Island ends up being captured by the rogue FOXHOUND unit led by none other than his twin brother, Liquid Snake, who's really just another clone of Big Boss like Snake himself.
After a brief time, Revolver Ocelot tortures Solid Snake, who canonically at least, survives and is then thrown inside a cell, with a guard posted outside, who happens to have a bad case of the runs, disappearing every now and again to visit the bathroom.
It's at this point that Snake can use his codec to contact his support team who give him suggestions such as using ketchup out of his rations pack to make it look like he's bleeding out on the floor. You can choose this method, or solid Snake can hide under the bunk in the cell, and when the guard returns, he sees that Solid Snake is missing, and goes inside the cell to investigate. It's at this point that Snake needs to be quick about nipping up from the floor as he crawls out from his hiding place, in order to take down the guard who will likely be firing at him by now, and at this point, he can now escape.
Snake continues along his mission and picks up his gear from the torture room, but unless he checks his inventory straight away, he won't notice that while he was imprisoned, Ocelot planted a bomb on his person, and it's only later that he'll find this out, and has to throw it away quickly before it detonates and kills him.
18. GTA III
Several characters in the GTA series have been to prison at some stage, including Tommy Vercetti from Vice City, who was imprisoned for 15 years, from 1971 through to 1986 when he was released.
In GTA III, or at least before the game begins, during a bank robbery in Liberty City, Claude is arrested after being shot and betrayed by Catalina, his girlfriend, who you later meet in San Andreas while playing as Carl Johnson.
He and a fellow prisoner, 8-Ball, are being transported to a facility to serve out their sentences, which includes ten years for Claude, but the convoy they are in is ambushed, and they both escape, hijack a vehicle on the bridge, and drive the rest of the way into Liberty City to a safehouse. Here, Claude lays low for a while from the police, while 8-Ball goes to another destination far enough away that if ones gets caught, the other has at least time to get away.
It's from there that Claude is able to go about his way making money the easy way in Liberty City.
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