No one wants to end up in jail, but there’s something fascinating about life in the clink. There have been some great fictional prisons in literature and cinema—and video games too. The following hoosegows are some of the toughest, most brutal, and hardest to escape from in gaming. Some horrible prisons, both new and old, have made their way onto this list since we first wrote it.
From freezing Russian labor camps to max security space-jails, these are scariest imaginary prisons on PC.
Castle Wolfenstein (Wolfenstein 3D)
B.J. Blazkowicz had to shoot an awful lot of Nazis to escape from the labyrinthine Castle Wolfenstein. As prisons go, Wolfenstein does offer some perks: ample access to weaponry, secret Nazi treasure, and delicious, hearty meals. On the downside, the dogs aren't very friendly and there's a giant Nazi with two machine guns standing between you and the exit. If you take too many bullets, you'll have to resort to eating dog food. Yuck.
Arkham (Batman: Arkham Asylum)
Batman famously has one of the best rogue's galleries in comics, and his nemeses inevitably end up in Arkham, Gotham's prison for the criminally insane. 2009's brilliant Arkham Asylum makes the prison itself the star, imagining it as a densely interconnected 3D playground in the vein of Super Metroid. As Batman gains new bits of equipment he opens up new ways to explore and unlocks new shortcuts. In the end, Arkham Aslyum has some great depictions of Batman's villains and the dark knight's abilities, but mastering the asylum is the true joy.
Irithyll Dungeon (Dark Souls 3)
The Souls series has some of the toughest prisons in gaming. Dark Souls starts you off in one, the Undead Asylum, which is guarded by an overweight demon that ruins newcomers on the reg. Dark Souls 2 has the Lost Bastille, a prison made entirely of cold grey stone, patrolled by undead knights and exploding mummies, and wraps with a boss battle against three nimble suits of armor. But Dark Souls 3’s Irithyll Dungeon is the prison-iest of all (most prison-y?). It glows a sickly green and greets you with the Jailers, spooky robed guards that lower your max health just by looking your way. Explore the cells and eventually you’ll run into the wretches, grotesque human-dragon hybrids, botched experiments of the Lothric family. Deeper in you’ll find giants taken prisoner, massive sewer rats looking for a snack, a downright mean basilisk ambush, some items that sound off a large scream when picked up to alert nearby enemies, a gluttonous humanoid with an enlarged hand for a head called—what else—the Monstrosity of Sin, and some sewer centipedes. Don't Google them.
It’s an awful place that folds over on itself in a disorienting search for one key after another, delaying your escape just beyond its rows and rows of thick iron bars. Get in, save Siegward, and never return.
Hartmann Federal Penitentiary (Mafia II)
Protagonist Vito Scaletta gets busted for selling stolen ration stamps and ends up in the clink. This is an act break of sorts, separating the game’s 1940s and 1950s chapters. The slow walk through the gates, being yelled at by jeering prisoners, is straight out of The Shawshank Redemption. You pass the time by punching people and scrubbing toilets, before emerging into a terrifying world of quiffs and rock and roll.
Majestic 12 prison (Deus Ex)
JC Denton defects from UNATCO and becomes a wanted man. He’s captured and wakes up in a mysterious underground cell. With the help of a creepy AI calling itself Daedalus he manages to escape, only to discover that the sinister prison facility is located below UNATCO’s Liberty Island headquarters. Most people who mess with Majestic 12 end up dead, but JC uses his nano-powers to break out and flee to Hong Kong.
Butcher Bay (The Chronicles of Riddick)
Butcher Bay is a space-prison for the galaxy’s toughest, gruffest space-bastards. Escape From Butcher Bay sees the titular Riddick, played by Vin Diesel, breaking out of this maximum security sci-fi prison by stabbing, choking, shooting, and sneaking past its small army of guards. But, even though escape is his top priority, he still finds the time to enter bare-knuckle boxing matches and shiv other prisoners.
Nova Prospekt (Half-Life 2)
“It used to be a high security prison,” says Alyx Vance, gravely. “It’s something much worse now.” She always was good at introductions. Nova Prospekt is an old prison that the Combine have converted into a facility for processing any ‘anti-citizen’ who fights against their tyranny. ‘Processing’ meaning being turned into a hideous half-machine monster. A grim place indeed, but no match for Gordon’s gravity gun.
Abbot State Penitentiary (The Suffering)
The Suffering is a mostly forgotten 2004 shooter from Midway, set on the twisted Carnate Island off the coast of Maryland. The penitentiary itself, where you're on death row, is just the beginning—the whole island has a dark history, including an insane asylum and a whole lot of executions. Hell breaks loose immediately when an earthquake calls up hordes of twisted monsters, who proceed to wreak havoc on the prison. It all may sound like standard horror fare, but The Suffering stood out thanks to some fabulously creepy designs by Stan Winston Studios. Those are monsters we would not like to be trapped on an island with.
Vorkuta (Call of Duty: Black Ops)
Probably the toughest prison on the list, Vorkuta is grim Russian labour camp and one of the most memorable levels in Black Ops. With help from Viktor ‘Gary Oldman’ Reznov, your fellow prisoners, a mini-gun called the Death Machine, and giant slingshots loaded with explosives you battle to freedom and destroy half the prison for good measure. Shame about that rubbish vehicle section at the end.
Purgatory (Mass Effect 2)
The prison ship Purgatory, operated by the Blue Suns mercenary company, is where unstable biotic Jack finds herself. Commander Shepard, hunting for the galaxy’s baddest asses, flies there in order to recruit her. Before it was a prison, the ship was used to transport animals, which explains the tiny cages masquerading as cells. It’s not all bad, though: if it gets crowded, the Blue Suns will dump you on a nearby planet.
Corel Prison (Final Fantasy VII)
This desert prison used to be a peaceful coal mining town, but now it’s a hellish jail. Cloud and co. are dumped here after a misunderstanding, and have to earn their freedom by entering, and winning, a chocobo race in the Golden Saucer theme park that looms over the prison. As far as I know, this is the only time in gaming history where you escape from jail by riding a giant chicken. Hopefully it’s not the last.
Coldridge Prison (Dishonored)
That’s not a very nice name. Why not Warmridge Prison? Dishonored protagonist Corvo Attano is sent here after being wrongly accused of murdering the Empress he was charged to protect. It’s an imposing building—designed by the same guy who dreamed up Nova Prospekt, Viktor Antonov—and serves as the game’s tutorial. Murderous inmates, brutal guards, and rats are among this foul place’s residents.
Shadow Moses (Metal Gear Solid)
This Alaskan military base isn’t technically a prison, but Solid Snake finds himself imprisoned in a cell there during the first MGS. There are a few ways to escape, but my favourite is spilling a bottle of ketchup and lying down next to it. The idiot guard thinks you’ve killed yourself and rushes in to help, giving you a window to break out.
The Bastille (Assassin’s Creed Unity)
Only slightly harder to endure than listening to the band Bastille, this famous French prison was notorious for its brutal treatment of prisoners. It’s here that the foppish hero Arno Dorian learns how to fight, and ultimately becomes an assassin. After the French Revolution it was demolished and replaced with a monument, but it will live forever in the decidedly average Assassin’s Creed Unity. C’est la vie.
Hell's Prison (Prison Architect)
Hell's Prison, posted on Reddit, is just one of thousands of devious, depressing prisons concocted by Prison Architect players. There's probably a harsher prison lurking on a hard drive somewhere, but Hell's Prison is a good example of how totalitarian Prison Architect lets you be as a warden.
"At any given time about 90-100 prisoners are in the initial stages of starvation and taking damage," reads the description. "The entire prison is one giant infirmary so that doctors automatically tend to them. Prisoners who are close to death are brought to the medical beds by the guards. I have yet to lose a prisoner to starvation."
Prison Architect's Steam Workshop is also full of fantastic creations and recreations, like Alcatraz. Now that's a tough prison.
Imperial Prison (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion)
One of the most famous video game prisons, this is where you start your adventure in Oblivion. You don’t know what your crime was or how you ended up there—you’re supposed to fill in the blanks—but a fateful encounter with the Emperor of Tamriel leads to your escape and transformation into a hero. You can return later and take the opportunity to teach gobshite Valen Dreth some manners.