REVIEW: Prison Boss VR

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Prison Boss VR | Cover Art
Title Prison Boss VR
Developer Trebuchet Studio Inc.
Publisher Trebuchet Studio Inc.
Release Date(s) December 4, 2018 (PS4)
August 29, 2017 (PC)
Genre Simulation
Platform(s) PlayStation VR, PC (Rift/Vive)
Age Rating T for Teen
Official Website

Graphic depictions in movies and personal accounts from people who have spent time in prison paint a very grim and frightening picture of the experience for us. From poor living conditions, to violent gangs, to abuse by guards and fellow inmates, landing a spot in prison is definitely not something that most of us would like to strive for. Thankfully, my experience being jailed in a virtual prison was much more pleasant than the real thing. Prison Boss VR is a VR title which first saw a PC release back in late 2017. Just over a year later, the PlayStation 4 received a port of its own. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be looking at the PS4/PSVR version, but nearly all aspects of the game should be the same for both versions.

Prison Boss VR | A warm welcome

At the onset of the game, you are placed in a medium-security prison. Having just watched a short film detailing how to make cigarettes and why you should never make them, you throw this warning aside and make some anyway. As to why making some cigarettes is worthy of incarceration we may never know. What is known is that you are itching to get out of there. What better way to accomplish this than by starting up your own contraband business and selling the very items that landed you in prison to begin with? Using your money and resources to create items demanded by the other inmates, you can build up your reputation and eventually receive help breaking out of the prison.

Prison Boss VR | Cigarette PSA video

When it comes to the core gameplay of Prison Boss VR, there are really just three factors that determine how successful you will be. These include speed, stealth, and money management. Of these, your ability to use money wisely is one of the most challenging, so I’ll cover that first. Each morning, you are visited by a fellow inmate who will sell you crafting supplies needed to create your contraband. These items range from things like tobacco, paper, glass bottles, and fabric (among other things). The price of these items will rise and fall at random each day, so the price of tobacco may be cheaper than the ‘going rate’ one day and highly inflated another day. Since your main goal is ultimately to boost your reputation by providing demanded contraband to other inmates, you need to make decisions about which items to buy on which days and make sure that you have enough money when it comes time to craft demanded goods. This can be tricky towards the end of each playthrough if you have large quantity demands but no money to purchase the necessary materials.

Prison Boss VR | Example Request

One concept that you will need to learn quick if you plan on escaping is that not spending all of your money on supplies each morning will hurt you in the long run. If tobacco and paper both have inflated prices but you need to make cigarettes for a request, too bad. You should generally buy materials that are on sale that day instead and make something else that will turn a larger profit. As alluded to above, you don’t want to make it to the end of a playthrough and not have enough money to craft the items necessary for escaping. Having said that, not crafting enough requested items will result in your reputation not increasing. Since you are only given a limited number of days to escape during each playthrough, you need to be smart with how you spend your money and choose each purchase carefully.

Prison Boss VR | Purchase Screen

Stealth is another critical component to keeping your business afloat. You were initially jailed for crafting homemade cigarettes which isn’t even a criminal offense. With that in mind, you don’t want the guards to see you making other types of illicit goods either, especially while you are in jail. Each in-game day is separated into a day and night period. You are only able to craft new goods at night while guards are patrolling the prison. If a guard approaches your cell and their flashlight shines on you while you are making something or if they see some goods or materials left out in plain sight, they will confiscate all of them. Not only does this eat away at your available funds, but you are only allowed to be caught a certain number of times before you “lose” the level and need to start over.

Prison Boss VR | Caught in the act

The easiest way to prevent guards from catching you in the act is by purchasing and using storage equipment like cabinets, trashcans, or lockers. This is easier said than done though since some items that you craft will be large, awkwardly shaped, or require storage for several days. I found during many of my playthroughs that I could get away with just keeping a cabinet door in front of guards’ flashlights without necessarily closing it all of the way. I also noticed that by using up the entire night period instead of fast-forwarding to the next morning, I could avoid having my cell searched. Little things like this will be important as you begin to craft larger and more intricate goods that take up precious space.

The last fundamental concept of Prison Boss VR that you will need to harness is speed. When I first began playing, I took my time while crafting and was overly cautious when the guards came by. I would always pack up my materials in advance and then unpack them once the guards moved on to anther cell. This isn’t a good approach though as in-game time moves quick and you will need to craft many items each night in order to meet request requirements. This will also affect how much gross profit you end up with to continue funding your operation. You do not want to make it to the end of a night and have unused materials left over. The only real advice that I have here is to work as quickly as possible, take risks, and have a plan for which items you will craft at the beginning of each night.

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All of the above components rely on your ability to control your player’s hand movements effectively. Thankfully, this is no problem as the motion controls are very responsive. This is one of those PSVR titles which requires the usage of two PS Move controllers. One controller controls your left hand while the other controls your right hand. Crafting items requires you to pick objects up, manipulate them in some way, and move them around. You may also need to throw objects around to hide them from the guards. With the exception of the occasional hiccup when I would move out of range for the camera, I never noticed any glaring issues with how the controls felt. Just stay in front of the camera and you should have no problems.

The music in Prison Boss VR was nothing to write home about, but it did work well to provide some ambiance. It has a rather unassuming, jazzy vibe and just sort of melts into the background as you play. The art style though is another story entirely and it immediately piqued my interest. While I can’t say that it would’ve been my first choice, the developers went with a shaded, cartoony style complimented by some very strange looking character designs. Each character is incredibly deformed looking and is essentially a big round mass with some facial features painted on. They move around by hopping on their non-existent legs and have detached hands like you do. I believe that given their rounded shapes and the name of the first guard you encounter (Louis Eggshell), the characters are supposed to be eggs. This would make the inmates of each prison ‘bad eggs’ (*cue laughter*). Overall, I enjoyed the look of this game and think that the unique visual style helps it stand out and adds a bit of humor.

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In total, there are four different prisons to escape from along with an additional “boss mode” level. Each is structured a bit differently from the others and each seems a bit more difficult as well. You start out with just the one initial prison to play through, but additional prisons are unlockable as you progress through each. There’s even a special game mode available from the main screen where you essentially keep playing and amassing money until the guards catch you in the act. It scores how much money you were able to amass before then as well as how long you survived. I found this to be a nice way of adding more replayability, but I would’ve rather seen a few more prisons added into the mix.

Prison Boss VR | Words to live by

Overall, Prison Boss VR does a great job of making prison seem like a fun little adventure. My first few in-game days at the first prison seemed pretty straightforward and not overly challenging. Things picked up from there though and each decision I made began to feel important. I had to restart multiple times due to poor handling of my funds and my own inability to plan effectively. Each level takes around an hour to complete, depending on how many times you fail and how fast you move. In total, I’d say I spent about 7-8 hours playing this game and had a lot of fun doing so. It retails on both Steam and the PlayStation Store for just $19.99 and I think that it is more than worth picking up at that price point. If you’re looking for a quirky, fun title to pick up and play with your PSVR headset and you’ve got a pair of Move controllers handy, Prison Boss VR is certainly worth a look.

Review Score

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

About Nick Benefield

A mainframe software developer from the Midwest, Nick found oprainfall while searching for information about Xenoblade Chronicles. Nick collects games across a myriad of different platforms (old and new). He's also passionate about old-school anime spanning from the early 80s through the late 90s.