Did you ever watch the prison movie The Shawshank Redemption and wished you could be the warden running the place? If so, there's a slight chance you might be interested in checking out Prison Tycoon 4: SuperMax. Yep, that's right. It's a tycoon simulator featuring prison as its setting. It's also the fourth installment in a series you've probably never heard of. While SuperMax sounds like a chain of oversized grocery stores, no such thing is involved. Although, I'd much rather be at a grocery store, than play this prison of a game. From playing Prison Tycoon 4, I can see why the warden from The Shawshank Redemption shot himself in the head.
Essentially, you should avoid this game like Sean Connery tries to avoid The Rock. While there's nothing necessarily wrong with a prison game based on the tycoon formula, Prison Tycoon 4's biggest problem is its execution. First of all, this game comes with no manual, not even an insert. Most importantly, there is no in-game tutorial. While this wouldn't really hurt, say, racing games or point-and-click adventures, developers should get locked-up for not including in-game tutorials for strategy management games. It gets exponentially more painful when you couple this with an unintuitive interface.
Throughout your time as the warden, you will be confronted with all of the tasks of running a prison. This means acquiring inmates, managing your economy, assigning people jobs, and yes, you'll sometimes need to issue a beat down. You'll do this from a top-down isometric camera angle. But all of this is severely hindered by a lack of an in-game tutorial. As a result, you'll often know what to do, but not how to do it. It gets even hairier when you do know what to do, but your commands don't work.
One time I wanted to break up a fight, so I tossed some tear gas at the warring prisoners, but nothing really happened. They proceeded to beat the living snot out of each other. You can try to send prisoners to their cells by putting things in lockdown mode, but a lot of them won't retreat to their quarters; and the ones that do come back out after a few seconds. So you'll then want to send a guard to break up the fight, but figuring out how to do that without proper instructions is extremely frustrating.
Since it's pretty much impossible to tell the difference between a guard and a prisoner in the yard, you'll have to open up the submenu. From there you click on the guard tab, select a specific guard, look at the minimap to check the whereabouts of the guard, close the submenu, investigate the most recent known whereabouts of the guard, locate and right mouse click the guy (you can't create a drag box to select anything in this game), move him into the action, right mouse click on a troubled prisoner, and select the beat-him-up icon. By the time you try to initiate all of this, a prisoner might have already died. If this all sounds convoluted it is. The whole game is like this, and it really hurts to not have a proper tutorial.
Trying to be the responsible warden, I tried to break up the action as best as possible by separating different gang members into separate work environments. As it turns out, assigning prisoners different jobs is another painful task. You would think that all you would have to do is to select a prisoner and right click on the area you want him to work at. But that's too simple and intuitive for Prison Tycoon 4. To assign a prisoner a job, you have to open up the submenu, click on the prisoner tab, check the minimap at the top of the screen, select a building you want him to work in, select a position you want him to work at, and finally exit out of the window. After you've done that, the prisoner may still not listen to you. So what you have to do then is open up that submenu again, click on the prisoner tab, select the specific prisoner you wish to command, and edit his daily routine so that he works as much as possible. However, even after that, prisoners would still disobey me. So then I tried sending a guard over to teach him a lesson. Once the prisoner was beaten up, he scampered off to the medical facility. After that, he went off and did his own thing. While you can order your staff around, you can't directly control your prisoners.
Once you successfully get them to work, you'll be disappointed to see that the interface doesn't easily allow you to track your prisoners' work progress. The menus only tell you that your prisoner is scheduled to work, but it doesn't tell you where. Thus, to see if he's doing his job, you've got to once again navigate through the submenu, click on the prisoner, and see if he's following instructions.
But managing people isn't the only part of this game. It wouldn't be a tycoon game if you couldn't construct and destroy various buildings. As the warden, you can build housing, recreational, security, medical, work, and staff buildings; most of which have advisors that give you nearly worthless tips. Once you select a building and plant it to the ground, it will rapidly grow before your eyes. However, without indoor furnishings, they will merely be a worthless shell. Building a dormitory? Prisoners won't be shipped over to your yard until you equip them with beds, and what good is an office building with no offices? To construct within buildings, you must first click on the building to "enter" it; which basically crops off the roof and locks the camera right on top of the structure. Here you can spend money to deploy rooms and other furnishings.
However, whenever you figure something out on your own, another problem arises which pretty much summed up my whole entire Prison Tycoon 4 experience. I can't stress how unintuitive this interface is. The game will throw icons at you and expect you to know what they mean. Certain prisoner's sentences will be listed as "3." Well, three what? Days? Weeks? Years? The saving icon looks like the loading icon, and vice-versa. Everything is simply too unpolished and it all reeks of bargain bin.
I wish I could say that the game's graphics are decent, but unfortunately they also suck. Hey, at least the game is consistent! The visuals look dated, the textures leave something to be desired, colors are drab, and everything is low polygonal. The best thing about this game is the music. While the score is far from good, unlike nearly everything else in this game, the tunes don't make me want to blow my brains out.
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