Job Simulator is still, even a year and a half after its release, one of the very first VR apps I put a new user inside. It just does so much right. The visuals are bright, colorful, and easy on the eyes. The setting has just enough humor to make someone smile but isn’t bombarding you with distracting jokes. It encourages experimentation and exploration as you poke and prod around each area. And above all else there is no tutorial necessary. I hand someone the controllers, tell them to pick a job, and they’re off. That’s all there is to it.
Prison Boss VR shares a lot of similar themes and design principles as Job Simulator, namely its whimsical style, visual flair, and game mechanics of picking up and messing around with stuff. However, it also differs in some major ways too and lacks a good deal of the polish that Owlchemy Labs is known for since Trebuchet is a much smaller development studio.
The premise of Prison Boss VR is simple: you’re in jail and you need to grow your empire of trading illicit materials such as cigarettes and alcohol. During the day you take different jobs at the jail to earn resources, trade for money, grow your influence and reputation, and unlock different lines of crafting. It’s almost like a tycoon-esque meta game of balancing your earning and productivity.
But when night falls you have free reign of your jail cell to move around and craft whatever you have the materials for. But you have to be careful because if a guard spots you working on any of that or sees any of your materials then you’re busted.
This creates an interesting dynamic of keeping an eye on the guards and making sure to hide things so you don’t get caught. It creates a lot more stress and anxiety than you’d expect and makes for a satisfying gameplay loop.
There are different jails (four prisons with a total of 80 different day jobs and 11 different items to make) to conquer and even an arcade-style quickplay game mode as well. Visually it gets the job done but doesn’t seem as inspired or original as the bold direction in other VR titles we’ve seen.
The jazz-style soundtrack fits the mood well and does a great job of making you feel like you’re starring in your own 80s crime movie. Except instead of trying to break out you’re content to become the kingpin instead.
Prison Boss VR was a lot longer than I expected and has several hours of content. It’s easy to get lost in the loop of performing jobs, making items, hiding materials, and so on. Ultimately though by the end it does eventually start to feel quite repetitive.
There are a lot of jobs and items to make, but the mechanics of actually making them end up all feeling very similar. Whereas Job Simulator aimed to focus on delivering a handful of highly interactive and dense jobs, Prison Boss VR appears to have aimed for the breadth over depth approach for the most part.
Another game mode or two — or better yet, some form of multiplayer — would have gone a long way towards expanding the feature set and replayability of the game. It never quite achieved the zany intensity of similar non-VR titles, like Shoppe Keep, even if it was able to etch out its own personality on the way.
Prison Boss VR is a breath of fresh air. In a market that’s over-saturated with shooters, and blood, and gore, and zombies, it’s nice to experience something with a much more light-hearted and whimsical tone. Fans of Job Simulator and tycoon-style games will find a lot to love here and far more content than expected, but what it gains in breadth it sacrifices in depth. Even still, this is a VR game we’d happily return to as a reward for good behavior.