Disclaimer: We were sent this game for free without the obligation of a review.
With the popularity of such TV hits as Prison Break and Orange is the New Black, it was only a matter of time until we got a prison simulator in VR. Ever wonder what it takes to become the head honcho while doing hard time? Well, now you can with the debut title Prison Boss VR from Montreal-based devs Trebuchet, Inc.
In Prison Boss VR, the ultimate goal is to craft your way to the top of the prison heap. When we say craft, we don’t mean scrap-booking or anything dainty like that. It’s a little bit err… more daring. We’re talking the DIY practice of rolling tobacco, writing dirty stories, making liquor from scratch, or weaving rope from fabric, and the like. Using your crafted products, you work your way up by trading and earning reputation. Welp, that sounds a little more serious than it’s supposed to. The game actually has a humorous tone and allows for some wacky fun.
When you launch the game for the first time, you’ll be taken through an early 1900’s style silent film tutorial on how “not to craft” in prison. Every time you progress onto the next level, you’ll go through another film which will equip you with more “craft recipes.” The main menu itself takes place on a platform where you can pick from saved games and see the available levels as you unlock them, each represented by tiny prison towers. To unlock a new tower, you need to break yourself out from the one you’re in by earning some prison reputation.
A Story in Serving Time
Prison Boss VR is room-scale optimized, and it puts you in the shoes of an inmate inside a jail cell. When the game first loads, it adjusts the in-game jail cell to match the boundaries of your play space.
The campaign mode features a day versus night premise and the game keeps track of how many days you’ve spent doing time. During the day is when you do the buying, trading, and taking jobs for others. You’re not allowed to craft during the day for the obvious reason of… getting caught! An inmate will come to your cell with an open box where you can place items you want to trade. He’ll also bring you a menu of materials, tools, furniture for sale and jobs to take. While crafted products will buy you tangible objects, taking jobs will earn you a reputation boost.
On the other hand, you sneakily craft as many products as possible at night, all while trying to avoid getting caught by the prison guard. The consequence? Confiscation of crafting materials and products. Sometimes, this could mean starting back at square one. This is where the stealth aspect of gameplay is highlighted. You’re challenged to source materials during the day and then craft as much as possible during the night all without getting caught.
Currently, the game offers 11 craft recipes, and a whopping 80+ jobs from a total of four prison levels. Once you’ve completed all four levels, an arcade mode is unlocked. That’s certainly more than enough to keep you occupied while you “do time.”
The Prison Economy
There’s a steady learning curve in Prison Boss VR, in that, you’ll need to learn some “prison economics” to make use of your time wisely. The first thing I learned was that the sum is usually greater than its parts. I can’t really get into the math of things too much because I’m still figuring it out for myself, too, ha. For example, to craft a cigarette, you need half a piece of paper plus a quarter box of tobacco. So, a box of tobacco may cost $6, and a piece of paper $4, but one cigarette could sell for $8 at the time. However, the prices may vary based on demand.
Aside from raw materials, you can also buy tools and furniture. Tools, such as pencils, a faucet, or oven, can be used over and over, and will be needed in crafting advanced and more valuable products. Buying furniture is part of the strategic gameplay. The developers cleverly manipulated game physics to make storage a little bit of a logistical nightmare, making it necessary to acquire storage space to keep your crafted contraband hidden from the guards.
Picking jobs requires strategy, of course. The more difficult the demand, the higher your reputation gets. However, more difficult jobs will take more time and materials. A lot of times, you’ll need to sacrifice what you have to get what you need. So while that trusty little cabinet makes dodging the guards an easy task, it may have better use once traded up for cash. Jobs also come with gifts and a few perks, such as unlocking more materials or tools displayed upon job completion as a bunch of adorable gift boxes.
Prison Boss VR makes me wish Valve’s knuckle controllers would come soon, as in, I need them yesterday. While grabbing is as easy as pulling the trigger on the Vive wands, there’s more trackpad use and wrist twisting than I’d like. I’ve recently injured my left wrist which has left my thumb with limited movement. So, anything that demands trackpad use with that hand has been a pain. But please don’t get me wrong, I can tell that the devs tried their best to make controls intuitive. Intuitive enough that the sight of me making the motion of shaking a bottle up and down made dgtlhrt go “What the hell are you doing?!”
Something that the game pulls off very well are the visuals and accompanying score. The cel-shaded art style and the jazzy tunes work perfectly in communicating the light-hearted approach to the otherwise ugly concept of incarceration. Additionally, I’m happy to report that so far, the game has played flawlessly or play space issues at all, even with a moderately-sized play space. I also appreciate that the devs added floor height adjustment.
Prison Boss VR is a “five minutes more” type of game for me. I’m motivated and excited to do a speed run after I’ve unlocked everything. In the future, it would be nice to have upgrade options for tools (i.e. pencil to pen which finishes letters faster), or the ability to scribble on walls like a real prison cell. For now, there’s more than enough content to recommend this title looking for a wholesome VR prison experience with depth.
Do your time in Prison Boss VR, available on a 15% launch discount at $16.99 on Steam (regular price $19.99).