by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
You never see your family during the game, yet you still feel you have to provide for them. After every immigrant you process, you live in fear of that awful printing noise that means you just got caught out. At the end of each day, you are simply shown a text screen showing your earnings, and what you have to pay for. The pittance you have left over goes into your savings. You get paid for each person you see in your booth, whether you accept them, reject them or detain them, so speed is key to getting money. However, too much speed will breed mistakes, which in turn will cost you money in fines. It’s a great risk/reward mechanic that has you making snap decisions about the documentation in front of you. Eventually you get yourself into a groove, build an efficient system and start checking each piece of information in order. It’s never that easy though, as there is always something to throw a spanner in the works.
One of those men wearing the strange clothes came to see me again today. He said he was with the Ezic Order, a group dedicated to Arstotzkan patriotism. He told me that I needed to reject a certain person, despite his papers being in order. I felt obliged to help this man, maybe out of pride for my country, or maybe because they scare me. Anyway I did what he said, and when I got home, there was a monetary gift. It was more than I earn in an entire month’s work. I don’t know whether to keep it though, because if I get audited and they find out where it came from I will be in big trouble. The money would really help out my family though...
There are underlying storylines here besides keeping your family alive. Political intrigue runs deep, and you are constantly being brought into the middle of it. Important people visit you to ensure that certain people are allowed through the checkpoint, or rejected, or have their papers confiscated. There are several instances of moral decision making, where you must choose between what is right, and what is best for you. Nearly everyone you come across has their own personality, and you will often see familiar faces. Some you welcome with a smile, others you learn to hate, but all of the interactions are wonderfully written. Terrorist attacks are commonplace, and it eventually comes down to you to defend your checkpoint when you gain access to the gun cabinet.
What’s great about the game is that there are twenty different endings. The climax isn’t at the same time for everyone either. I thought I was only about halfway through the game when suddenly I got fired. It turned out I had denied access to a diplomat with invalid documentation, who also happened to be the mistress of my boss, and he wasn’t best pleased. When you reach a game over screen, you don’t have to start all over again thankfully. You can begin from any day you have reached so far. Another time I made it all the way through to the ‘end’, only to be audited, arrested for treason, tried and executed. The variety and attention to detail in a game about repetition is quite incredible. At times decisions you make will even influence future gameplay.
Yesterday there was this idiot reporter who was trying to get through the checkpoint using just a passport and his press pass. I told him that he needed an entry permit, and he became really aggressive. He called me names and told me to expect to read about the incident. I just got on with my job and didn’t pay any attention to it. This morning though, I got to work only to find a new regulation in place thanks to a story in an international newspaper. Now if I’m rejecting access to Arstotzka, I need to stamp the visa with a ‘Reason for Denial’. Yet another thing to worry about in a job that is already too stressful. No time to dwell on it though, I need to start work and earn some money. Here comes the first miserable soul of the day.
Engaging gameplay accompanied by an intriguing storyline.