Papers, Please – Review (PC)

Expect a Class-8 dwelling. – Papers, Please

Having gained a lot of attention on Steam Greenlight earlier this year, Lucas Pope’s ‘dystopian document thriller’ has finally launched for both PC and Mac, offering a twist on the classic espionage formula inspired by the developer’s real-life trips through airport security. In Papers, Please, players take on the role of an immigration inspector, working at a newly instated patrol booth on the border of the fictional country Arstotzka. Before allowing any citizens passage, documents must be scrutinised for discrepancies, in order to weed out any smugglers, outlaws and terrorists; a result of the country’s recent six-year war with neighbouring Kolechia.

There are two different modes available to play: Story and Endless. Story focuses on a set scenario with multiple different endings, where the number of border regulations increases as the player progresses. In contrast, Endless mode has a customisable ruleset and focuses on processing an endless stream of citizens perfectly or against the clock. However, this mode needs to be unlocked via achieving a certain Story ending or by entering a (currently) secret code.

papers, please

Keeping in line with Pope’s earlier works, Papers, Please hosts a simple yet effective graphical style. Watching a tiny figure comprised of a few black pixels vault over a barrier and lob exploding projectiles at your fellow patrol officers in an act of terrorism is somehow quite charming. Citizens’ faces when inside your booth are well designed and of a great variety – nudity when strip searching suspects can be turned off via the options menu if you’re offended by that kind of thing, although blood and violence cannot. The score and script are similarly gratifying, aiding in conveying the tense atmosphere inside this communist state.

When it comes down to gameplay, Papers, Please is most definitely not for casual players; the amount of different requirements needed to allow citizens to pass through the border can be pretty intimidating for newcomers. We actually physically wrote down a list of fictional countries and states on a piece of paper to refer to with ease; the information is all included mid-game via rule books, but your officer’s desk can quickly become cluttered.

Needless to say, we felt pretty overwhelmed during our first play of Papers, Please. There was always something we had failed to notice about an immigrant’s passport (even little things like the person’s gender being incorrect) and thus we were constantly reprimanded and given a citation confirming our errors. Receiving too many of these results in your wages being cut; by the end of the week, we were $35 in debt. On account of earlier mistakes, our entire family had perished due to starvation, and we were subsequently arrested for delinquency. This is ending 1 of 20, and is the one that a majority of players will be awarded first. In all honesty, Papers, Please initially felt like a chore.

papers, please

That being said, we proceeded a little further with every new attempt and eventually reached a less horrifying ending. Once the basic rules and procedures had been memorised the game became much more enjoyable, and definitely not as cruel as we had originally perceived it to be. Backtracking is also easy since a save file is made at the beginning of each new day, meaning you don’t have to begin anew if you make a couple of crucial mistakes; a very handy and unique addition for this style of game. Along with the 20 different endings and Endless mode, there are also Steam achievements to be unlocked and online leaderboards to be conquered, helping add even more longevity.

To his credit, Lucas Pope has crafted an experience where you truly feel like you are an immigration inspector. What may appear to be a fiendishly difficult and unfair game gradually becomes easier and more rewarding with each additional play through. Papers, Please may not be for everyone, but there is an abundance of content and charm to satisfy those who pass through the border and explore what lies beyond. Glory to Arstotzka!