by Matt Porter, reviewed on
One of the best
This is a game I have been looking forward to ever since I played the demo earlier this year. I thought it was cool at the time, but I was worried that the full game wouldn’t bring much more to the table. I have never been more happy to be wrong, as Papers, Please, developed by Lucas Pope, has turned out to be one of the best games I have played so far this year. The premise doesn’t sound like much, so this is going to be a hard sell. I’ll just have to ask you to trust me, please. This is a game you should play.
It’s 6am on the 17th December 1982, and I’m already at work, ready to begin my day. I am an immigration officer on the border of Arstotzka. We have just ended a six year war with our neighbours, Kolechia, but of course we are still under threat from extremists. It’s my job to regulate entrance to my glorious country. I have to check passports, entry permits, and any other relevant pieces of identification. My inspection booth is tiny. On the wall, two cheap looking plaques for ‘Sufficience’. My desk is even smaller, and there I keep a crayon drawing from my son, because the wall is for ‘official plaques only’. Here comes the first immigrant of the day. He already looks shifty, but then again it is my job to be suspicious.
A bad start to the day. He gave me his passport, ID supplement and entry permit, but he didn’t hand over his work pass. I had to show him in my rulebook that he needed to show it, and after some digging he did eventually present it. I checked his name against all the documents, his ID number, his weight against the scales and his height against the measurer on the back wall. The expiry dates were all valid, and his picture didn’t appear on my list of wanted criminals. Finally though, it became apparent why he was attempting to hide his work permit. I quickly checked the seal and found that this document had been forged. I called over the guards to arrest the man. What a waste of time. At least my friend over at the detention centre gives me a cut of his earnings whenever I make an arrest. Hopefully my boss won’t find out though.
It’s remarkable just how many game mechanics there are in such a small game. At one point during the game, certain types of people would have to hand over five pieces of documentation, and you have to check the validity of every single one. The rules change almost daily. For example after an outbreak of Polio in the United Federation, you had to reject anyone from that country. The next day they were allowed in, but only if they had evidence of a recent vaccination. You have access to a scanner, a fingerprinting set, an audio log and a rulebook to help you make decisions. The graphics are basic, but are really in keeping with the dreary setting. There is one song, a fantastic industrial dirge that becomes ingrained in your mind, along with the repetitive audio bites which go along with the repetitive nature of the job. You can play the game in windowed mode, or in full screen, but the playing space never changes. This might sound odd, but is in fact a clever way of ensuring that you always feel overwhelmed. Papers clutter your desk, and you are constantly having to move things around to check all the details.
I just made a mistake. I let someone through with an expired passport accidentally, and my bosses noticed and gave me a citation. I’m okay for now, but if I receive too many in one day then I eventually start getting fined. I can’t afford that considering they already barely pay me, and I have four family members at home to feed. The rent’s due and Christmas is coming up. I also need to keep the heating on to stave off the biting cold.
Engaging gameplay accompanied by an intriguing storyline.