When I first got my hands on a beta version of Papers, Please (PC), I was blown away. The originality of the concept and gameplay intrigued me enough to get in touch with the mastermind behind the game. In my short interview with Lucas Pope, I asked him various questions about his Dystopian document thriller, which you can read here. I’ve now managed to get my hands on the full version.
We’re a border agent in the communist state of Arstotzka (a fictional place), which has just ended a lengthy war with its neighbor, Kolechia. As a result, Arstotzka has been able to reclaim its half of the border town called Grestin. Our job is to help control the flow of immigrants now that the Grestin border is finally open for business.
The challenge is that we have to meticulously inspect the documents we are provided, and consequently, determine who to allow in and who to turn away. We’ll encounter all kinds of immigrants; workers, visitors, smugglers, and terrorists among others. It’s a role that demands a great level of responsibility and an excellent eye for detail.
Our job is fairly simple in the beginning. Check a few details in the documents that land on the immigration desk, turn away those who are fibbing, and let in genuine immigrants. However, similar to real life, those who wish to enter illegally begin to find loopholes to enter that require our attention. Every day we’re given a new set of instructions to follow, with more and more twists added to the story as the game progresses. This makes Papers, Please so engaging that it actually kept me thoroughly interested in the monotonous and sometimes depressing job of an immigration inspector.
What stood out the most to me throughout the game was the tense environment. We have to make moral choices. If we’re going to let someone in on humanitarian grounds despite them not being fit for entry, we must prepare ourselves to be penalized. This can affect our ability to make a living, and in turn, our family.
The story mode can take 4-5 hours to complete, is broken into 31 days, and has 20 different endings. A certain ending can also unlock the ‘endless mode’, which allows us to deal with an endless flow of immigrants in a Timed mode, Perfection mode, or Endurance mode.
Papers, Please can actually say something about our personalities without us realizing it. If someone is desperate to enter for genuine reasons, my inclination was to allow them entry and sympathize with their situation. But I’m sure there are people out there who’d stick by the rules through thick or thin. And if that means shattering someone’s hopes for the future, then so be it. It’s safe to say that I couldn’t ever work in a real-life border agency.
The setting and presentation of the game compliments the theme wonderfully. The in-game environment looks dark, gloomy, and stressful. An almost perfect depiction of a post-war communist state, Papers, Please is designed to be played on most, if not all, PCs. The controls are fairly simple and the game uses a save system that allows players to go back to any of the previous days to try different things.
Papers, Please puts us in a realistic situation that would not only hit home to those who’ve experienced post-war border controls, but also to those who currently work in immigration departments. Having liaised with the UK’s Border Agency on various occasions before, the game gives me a unique sense of realism.
Not only do we feel under pressure to perform, we also have to deal with the stresses that come with our role. We may make decisions that feel very wrong yet need to be made for the sake of those dependent upon us.
Final Verdict: 10/10 (This is a game everyone must try out at least once)
Papers, Please is out today for PC and Mac through Steam, GOG.com, and the Humble Store for $9.99 (EUR 8.99). A Steam review code for the game was provided to us by Lucas Pope. I’m trying to play the game differently now and find that there’s something oddly satisfying about stamping passports!