Review

This game has been on my radar the past couple of months or so after hearing about it from the guys over at Giant Bomb. Now that the game has been officially released, it is safe to say that Papers, Please is a chilling, yet oddly satisfying experience that is unique among most games released today.

The setup for Papers, Please is that you are an immigration inspector between the fictional Eastern Bloc countries of Kolechia and Arstotzka in the small town of Grestin in 1982. It is your job to either approve or deny individuals entrance into the country. Other story elements are expounded upon through newspaper articles that are shown after each day. There is an ever evolving narrative going on within the country of Arstotzka depending on who you do or do not allow through the border. For example in one of the early days, a woman that you approve slips you a note as she is leaving the booth saying that there is a man following her who she thinks will hurt her and her sister. When the man eventually arrives in the booth, if you approve him the next day you will see a newspaper article about two women killed by a man (whose name you recognize approving the day before). If you deny him, they’ll live. It is fascinating when these situations arise and seeing what the outcome is both ways.

Yeah...stuff can get complicated.

Yeah…stuff can get complicated.

Gameplay is where Papers, Please shines but in a very odd way. During the day, the screen will always be split into three segments: a long horizontal bar at the top showing the checkpoint and the surrounding area, a box in the bottom left showing the booth and the immigrant waiting and the bottom right which is basically your desktop. As the days progress the more paper work clutters it, and you constantly have to shuffle things around to find everything you need to fact check passports, entry visas and more. This kind of ‘organized disorganization’ is key to the gameplay and is another obstacle trying to slip you up into making a mistake. Eventually there are multiple things that you will need to check on from weight to purpose of visit to length of stay and you are allowed two mistakes per day with no penalty. After that you will lose progressively more money with each passport that is either approved or denied incorrectly. This plays in to the secondary part of the game which is your family.

Between each work day, there will be a list of expenses including food, heat and rent with occasional other costs. The more people that you process throughout the day, the more money you make to take home to your family. So the speed versus accuracy conundrum becomes quite important very quickly. If you have to skip out on paying for heat, the next day family members will become sick then medicine becomes a separate expense. There are no visual representations of your family besides the words ‘son’ ‘wife’ and so on spelled out, so you never become too attached, but it is satisfying to be able to bring home enough money to pay off the bills and survive another day.

If you leave that heat bill unchecked, you'll have to spend more on medicine the next day.

If you leave that heat bill unchecked, you’ll have to spend more on medicine the next day.

The artstyle is old school pixel art which fits the time period and does a fine job for the most part. Unfortunately there are times where the picture on someone’s passport looks fairly similar to who is standing in front of you but you approve them are are warned about matching pictures. That happened several times and while it isn’t a huge deal, it was frustrating at times. Besides that minor annoyance, the artstyle is endearing and almost seems to prompt you to focus more on the paperwork than the individual adding to the cold tone of the game.

In terms of its soundtrack, there isn’t much of one which is a good thing. There is the menu music which sounds like it belongs in a Cold War movie and when you’re actually playing, there is no music but only the sounds of the megaphone yelling ‘NEXT!’ and the jibberish that is spoken between immigrants and yourself.

There are some tough decisions to make in the game with all of the immigrants that you encounter. Do you allow a mother through who hasn’t seen her son in six years even though her passport is expired, or do you stick to the rules? There are situations like this in each of the 31-32 in game days and a single playthrough takes about four hours to finish. However, there are 20 different endings that can finish the story prematurely which is half the fun to try and see them all. Luckily developers Lucas Pope and 3309 LLC allow you to start at any day that you have played through. For example if I was at day 27 and read about something that I missed out on on day 16, I can go to the menu and click back to that day, not erasing my furthest progress but adding its own branch to the existing file to keep it separate. However, any decisions made in past days will stick so it isn’t a terrible idea to start a fresh playthrough if you can’t remember exactly when you might have made a poor decision.

Once you beat the game, (or Google the code to unlock it) there is an endless mode which presents three different game variants including Endurance, Perfection or Timed which present their own specific rulesets. Taking the family aspect out of the equation puts a little less stress and a little more enjoyment focusing solely on the job.

Papers, Please is quite possibly my favorite indie game of the year. Between the atmosphere and gameplay it is not only addicting but irritating as well (in the best possible way). Every time you look over someone’s information and approve them only to have your boss tell you that you missed something is infuriating but adds pressure to get it right the next time. For $9.99 on Steam, this game is worth every penny.

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About the Author

Ross
A recent college grad who just loves playing games. Hopefully I can help you save some money (and possibly spend more than you would like).