Game Review: Papers, Please

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Papers, Please

Rating: ★★★★☆
Platform: Linux, Microsoft Windows and OS X
Release Date: August 8, 2013 (Windows and OS X) & February 12, 2014 (Linux)
Developer: Lucas Pope

On his website, Lucas Pope, creator of Papers, Please, describes his game as “A Dystopian Document Thriller”; I’m sure that anyone with a job involving paper of any kind will argue that ‘documents’ and ‘thrills’ are two opposing concepts that just don’t go together, but Pope’s little gem proves all those paperwork hating naysayers wrong.

Having won the ‘October labor lottery’, you take up the position of immigration inspector at ‘The Ministry of Admission’ in the fictional authoritarian state of Arstotzkan. It’s basically your job to examine the passport of each person who tries to cross the border from the neighbouring country of Kolechia.

The game has a Cold War era feel to it; the starting date of the story mode is 1982, and Arstotzkan is portrayed as your typical socialist authoritarian state. The visuals are gloomy and drab, and the music is powerful and repetitive, mimicking the pounding of the immigration inspector’s ‘granted’ and ‘denied’ stamps.

Papers, Please

As each person enters your little booth, you must cycle through all the potential discrepancies that could be lurking in their documents: incorrect photograph on passport, incorrect name, I.D. numbers that don’t match, and so on. Money is deducted from your wages if too many mistakes are made; the frustrating thing is that often these mistakes are minor: forgetting to check small details like the weight, height, and sometimes even gender of the person you’re examining can add up, costing you a considerable sum of money.

In Papers, Please money is vitally important; it’s far more than just a scoring system. As well as being an immigration inspector you’ve also got to be a family man, looking after your wife, child, mother-in-law and your uncle. You’ve got to feed them all, pay for rent, heating, and medicine if one gets sick. I wasn’t exactly the best immigration inspector, and soon family members were dropping like flies; first it was my uncle, followed quickly by the mother-in-law. Not necessarily a bad thing, you may say.

Ultimately the game is getting the player to make weighty decisions quickly, decisions that actually have an impact on their survival within the game. Will you allow yourself to feel compassion when dealing with people, or become the automaton the state wants you to be? Will you accept a mysterious sum of money that magically appears in your account, when you know that it could land you and your family in jail? Making the wrong decisions can cost money, and ultimately the lives of your family.

What Lucas Pope has created is a nifty little game that is easy to get into and very hard to get out of. The characters who attempt to cross over the border each day manage to be interesting and quirky, while still retaining some degree of believability. Papers, Please offers gamers an interesting examination of authority, by placing the player in a position of power, whilst also being under the thumb of the authoritarian state of Arstotzkan.

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