Papers, Please (Video Game Review)

Sitting behind a desk all day checking people's legal documents for any discrepancies and making life changing decisions for low pay that barely affords you enough money to feed your family doesn't sound like a fun time does it? Yet, that is exactly what you do throughout the entire campaign of the new indie title Papers, Please. The game isn't quite as boring as it sounds at first, but looking over numerous documents for hours on end can quickly become a bore, and the darkness the game exudes is more than enough to trap gamers in a state of depression after choosing who to allow into safety of the game's fictional country while turning others away just to feed the player's own family. Papers, Please is a game that relies heavily on choice and consequence, and unless you're a heartless bastard, you'll have a tough time making some of the more important choices throughout the game.

The player works at the Ministry of Admission for the war free country of Arstotzka in Papers, Please. New immigrants are trying to reach the safety of the city from the war torn borders that surround it every day, and it's the players job to look over all of the legal documentation to determine who may enter and who gets the boot. Some of the choices will have little consequence for the player, but others may separate families or directly cause a terrible event such as letting a murderer across the border. All of the action plays out in the local newspaper received each day that combines with letters from the Arstotzka to make the game's storyline. There are multiple endings featured in the game, but most players won't care to stick around after receiving their first and will head to a new game mode or a new game altogether.

Everything the player does in Papers, Please is a careful balancing act between doing what is right and ensuring no mistakes are made at the job. Documents are given to the player with each new immigrant, and they must be carefully studied for authenticity including birth dates, sex, pictures and other vital information to ensure they are who they say they are. Allowing someone to enter the country illegally will result in a deduction from the day's pay, and the player has to earn enough money to support a family with food, shelter and medicine. Letting in too many of the wrong people can also lead the government to assume the player is in a company with the troublemakers and can end in an arrest and game over. More documents are added to the stack later in the game that makes the player's job even more difficult, but there are manuals in the game that can be used to determine city locations and other important information. All of the work in Papers, Please is just that (work) and can become tedious and repetitive really quickly resulting in a game that doesn't have much long term appeal.

Papers, Please is a game that will definitely have some dedicated supporters, but the game is not for everyone either. For fans that enjoy what the game has to offer, there are a variety of game modes included in Papers, Please beyond the game's main storyline. Endless mode allows players to continue playing the game at infinitum or until certain conditions are met in game. There are a variety of options in the game including playing until the player's balance drops below zero for making too many mistakes, shooting for perfection with every mistake costing the player points overall or playing a timed mode where mistakes won't end the game but can lower the player's overall score. Each mode offers a unique way to play the game, though they also manage to take away from some of the emotional turmoil Papers, Please's storyline can cause for better or worse.

Papers, Please easily looks like a game that could pass for an NES classic. The game chooses an art style that looks retro and fits the vibe the game exudes, but when comparing picture ID cards to the immigrant, the unique aesthetic can cause some problems. Some people are easy to compare with their IDs, while others can be near impossible to know for sure. In a game that requires such precision, this can be really frustrating for the player. Still, there are plenty of cool scenes that happen outside of the safety of the immigration office that look pretty cool despite the retro look. A matching soundtrack accompanies the game to complete what immersion the game can muster.

Papers, Please isn't a bad game, and it surely is a unique idea for a video game, but it doesn't always make playing through the game more exciting than the real life counterpart to the job. The game is comparable to other indie games such as Little Inferno that takes such a simple task that is rarely thought about in the world of video games and makes it entertaining for a short time, but there is just little longevity to be had with Papers, Please. If you're looking for a fun and interesting new game to play for a few hours, pick up a copy of Papers, Please on Steam or, but if you're looking for a game that is well worth every penny spent, you might want to look beyond the glorious country of Arstotzka.

Papers, Please is now available for PC and Mac and can be purchased for $9.99. For more information on the game, check out the official Papers, Please website.

Game Features:
  • Single Player
  • Four Ways to Play
  • Steam Cloud Saves
  • Steam Leaderboards
  • Steam Achievements

  • Game Information:
    Developer & Publisher: Lucas Pope
    Platforms: PC (reviewed) & Mac
    Release Date: August 8, 2013

    Score: 5 out of 10

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