Genre: Dystopian Document Thriller, Simulation
Release Date: August 8th, 2013
Platforms: PC & Mac
Price: $9.99 USD (EUR 8.99 from Steam)
Papers, Please is a hybrid simulation game that puts the player in the role of an immigration inspector, processing passports and documents on the border of two fictional Eastern Bloc countries. As the inspector you will be required to review each immigrants’ paper work for inconsistencies and either reject or approve them for entry. The evolving political climate will not only influence the policies for form-processing but shake up the procedure focused gameplay with events. Was it not clear people would be jumping over the wall or carrying out terrorist attacks as you approve and reject immigration paperwork? They will! Glory to Arstotzka!
All the political unrest creates high tensions and puts the player in a position to make choices of heavy consequence that prevent their 31 day run as inspector from becoming dull or monotonous. While individual immigrants can be helped with matters such as being reunited with loved ones, your choices will impact the outcome of a few groups who need you to take their side and determine the fate of the border. At the end of the day you still need to make enough to support your family, which ultimately is the one group you may want to look out for the most.
Violating protocol for some of these choices means a dock in pay and the less money you have, the harder it will be to keep everyone fed, and the rent and heat paid for. Money can be saved by skimping on food or heat or earning a little extra by taking bribes at work, but there’s a risk associated with making those kinds of choices. One of your family members may get sick or die or you may get your savings confiscated or worse, thrown into prison. These sorts of game over situations are a bulk of the 20 possible endings that can be achieved.
The game’s art feels appropriately dated for its 1980’s setting and the limited color palette with occasional splashes of brighter hues put emphasis on aspects of character within the story, whether it be immigrants or the countries. Bold, contrasting shapes and general lack of gradation drives in the idea of a how bleak and controlling the world is. Just like the art and menus, the music seems equally aware of its setting, with an electronic sound that’s reminiscent of a bygone Soviet era.
Papers, Please has a number of endings, some of which will be encountered short of the 31 day story. It might take about 4 hours to get one ending without retrying a day. That won’t be a problem though because you will be retrying days. The save system displays your progress in branches and encourages making those varied choices to see all the different endings. Endless mode, where the player can process documents without the day ending, can only be unlocked after one of the harder endings.
Papers, Please is a refreshing independent game set in an oxymoronically stifling world. Its methodical gameplay may not appeal to those who prefer a more action-driven experience, or want to quickly hop in and out of their next adventure. However those that take time to find their rhythm will end up with the enjoyable challenge that comes in maintaining your pace when confronted with changing protocol and obstacles that can’t be solved with a red or green stamp. For those straddling the wall on whether they want the game or not, there’s a beta version available on the developer’s site, featuring the first 8 days as the inspector.
A little bit of “work” can be very rewarding.