Hard Time is the newest offering from MDickie, the developer behind Wresting Revolution. He's brought the hard-hitting action of his wrestling game and transferred it to the prison life, letting you serve time however you want in an open-world (so to speak), environment.

I'll be honest; I absolutely hated Hard Time when I first started playing it. I made the mistake of getting really hyped in the beginning, even though all I had done was customized my prisoner and outfitted him with all kinds of attacks, culled from wrestling's greatest hits (I purposely gave my character all powerbomb moves). Because of the ridiculous moves attacks I assigned my character, I though Hard Time would let me just roll through a prison, beating people up Final Fight-style. Nope. It turns out that Hard Time is a pseudo-open world adventure in which you start at the bottom and live out your days in prison, creating alliances, building up your stats, getting pummeled for no reason and trying desperately not to poop your pants. More on that last bit later.

You start out Hard Time by getting sentenced by a judge and being sent to prison for a set number of days. You can live out your days peacefully and spend your time reading books, eating bananas that you find on bathroom floors or playing the guitar. Or you can do as Hard Time intended and raise some hell, fight other inmates, break objects, steal items and try to escape. The choice is yours, which is a beautiful thing.

Unfortunately, actually playing Hard Time can be an ordeal unto itself. It's difficult to move around accurately because of how the game's engine controls movement, and there are several objects littered around the game world that constantly obstruct your path. You might attempt to grab a piece of pizza on a table and end up accidentally hitting a guard or an inmate. Then what ensues is a maelstrom of pain that results in you either losing a ton of health or losing your mind and going on a rampage that you literally cannot control. Also, there are random moments when you end up having to use the bathroom. If you can't find a toilet in time, it results in you committing a brown crime and losing a bunch or reputation points.

Perhaps one of the most annoying things about Hard Time are the ads. I mean, I understand that free games are going to have ads, but must they be so intrusive in this one? The ad banners cover up 60% of the top of the screen and even hide a good chunk of your health meter! This does not make for a very enjoyable gaming experience. And since Hard Time runs on a 24-hour day/night cycle, you'll have to go to sleep to recover your health and sanity. And every time you do so, an ad plays. Each time this happens, I'm liable to go insane myself and start chucking things across the room and putting passersby in headlocks.

But even with all of its technical headaches, Hard Time has a bit of heart and humor that help make it a playable game that can offer some chuckles along the way. You can build up your character's strength, agility, intellect and reputation by completing certain actions like lifting weights, running in the exercise yard, learning from tutorials offered by inmates and successfully defeating others in combat. It seems as if a high reputation gets you off the hook a lot of the time whenever you get in trouble and are sent to the judge again. More often than not, a high rep means he'll rule in your favor in a dispute. So feel free to beat up as many of your compatriots as you can.

The character designs might be goofy and border on copyright infringement and the controls may not be the smoothest, but there's just something about Hard Time that keeps me playing, despite its many problems.

Maybe it's because I want to see what each new day brings me. Maybe it's because I want to see my character grow into a fear/beloved member of this correctional facility. Or maybe it's because I'm waiting for season 2 of Orange is the New Black and need some kind of prison drama fix. Whatever the reason, Hard Time seems to be relieving an itch and providing all kinds of entertainment for free.

You can pay for the premium version to remove ads and open up the options to play as a guard or a civilian, but if you don't mind the constant ads and being relegated to a prisoner, then Hard Time is worth a look.


App Store Link: Hard Time for iPhone & iPad | By MDickie | Price: Free | Version: 1.01 | 29.2 MB | Rating 12+

6.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating