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Review: Papers, Please3909 Steam indie
Video games are a marvelous medium that allow you to jump out of your life for minutes or hours at a time. You can be a pilot, god, anthropomorphic animal, and a whole host of other roles. One thing’s for sure, though; it’s very unlikely that the gaming population has ever wished for a game where players get to be border patrol. And yet, that’s what Papers, Please provides. It’s not an experience anyone wants but we’re stuck dealing with it all the same.
This is basically how the story begins as well. Your character was chosen by the Ministry of Admission to man the Arstotzka border turnstile. It’s not as if he had any special skills either, it was just a lottery-based decision. Players quickly realize this Communist state is imposing a host of new rules about who can gain entry and it’s their role to either keep in line or show some compassion.
As you might expect, admitting or restricting people from entering your country isn’t exactly the most exciting work. This is your new job and that’s where nearly the entire game plays out. One by one, you ask someone to your stop and look over their documentation. If they have the proper forms and they appear to be legitimate, then they can be on their way. If, however, they are missing parts of documentation or something looks suspicious then you can make the decision of letting them pass anyway or turning them away.
Often you may think that simply turning them away is the best choice. After all, admitting people who shouldn’t be tends to result in your pay being docked. However, some characters who crop up have sob stories that it’s easy to empathize with. Should you trust anything that they say as true? Everything is up to you which makes the game feel much stronger than just a matching-focused puzzle game.
When not dealing with moral quandaries, the main gameplay of Papers, Please focuses on checking every form presented to your desk. It starts off very minimal, but quickly IDs, passports, tickets, and other goodies must be taken care of as well. You need to check obvious parts such as expiration dates, but also match names and numbers across forms. Of course, you also need to consider that the photos on IDs match the person in front of you at least somewhat.
At times, you’ll feel the need to either detain someone or simply get a scan of their body. Detaining seems cruel, but the full body scans are full-on TSA-style and are likely to make players feel bad. They serve a purpose when people have bombs or other contraband but otherwise it feels like a grave misuse of power. It’s strange how such a simplistic game can cause players to seriously consider security restrictions and their implications - but Papers, Please does it.
The visual style definitely meshes with the rest of the game. Colors are primarily very low-key and bland, just like our protagonist. Characters have dark grey faces which only compounds the feeling of sadness about the border checkpoint. Documents, too, have very specific looks which you can familiarize yourself with. When a stamp is missing or lines are crooked, you know something’s up.
After each day at work, your salary is totaled up against charges for rent. On this screen you must also delineate between paying money for heating of the apartment, food, or medicine for your family. If you’re lucky (or playing on easy) it is not impossible to pay for everything at once. However, most players will regularly have to decide between who to provide medicine to, or what their family can do without until the next paycheck.
There are 30 days to progress through to “finish” Papers, Please. However, you can definitely find the game ending before then. Although a month might not seem like a lot of content, avid players will find that there are a ton of endings to discover. Working toward getting each of these easily adds on more hours of play. As it stands, the game only costs $10 anyway, so it’s pretty packed with value.
The overall experience provided by Papers, Please is incredibly addictive but also depressing. It’s rare to see these two aspects combine but that's what makes the game seem like something extraordinary. There’s no doubt that some people just won’t be able to get into the monotony of checking forms, but for those that do, you’re going to see this is one hell of an experience.
+ Changing border rules keep players on their toes
+ Branching paths and multitude of endings
+ Graphics/audio completely mesh with gameplay
- Gameplay could easily be considered tedious if it’s not your thing
Overall Score: 9.0 (out of 10)
Papers, Please is the kind of game that is so ingenious in execution that you can’t help but want to play it for hours at a time.
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