It’s hard to imagine that sorting through paperwork could be anything but boring, dull, and repetitive work. Endlessly checking and stamping papers, you’d think a game about such a menial sort of task wouldn’t work. Yet Papers, Please, developed by Lucas Pope, aims to not only feature such a thing, but to make it engaging.
“Congratulations. The October labor lottery is complete. Your name was pulled.”
You take control of an unnamed immigration inspector at a newly opened border checkpoint on November of 1982 as he begins his first day of work. From there, the story can take a number of different directions resulting in any ending out of a total of twenty depending on the player’s performance and choices.
The entire game takes place at the border of the fictional countries Arstotzka and Kolechia, in between the divided towns of East and West Grestin. In total, there are 7 different fictitious nations in Papers, Please, most of which throughout the game’s duration will have their own events that will impact rules that you must try to adhere to, from who you let in, to what paperwork you may have to confiscate, spotting forgeries, and much more.
Check information, compare immigration documents for consistency, approve or deny entrants, and earn enough money by processing enough immigrants to pay for your family’s needs and avoid running out of money. That is what you have to look forward to at face value in Papers, Please—but it does get deeper than that.
Progressively, the documents you process become more complex, making it more difficult to keep track of everything you’ve already checked and increasing the chances you may miss inconsistencies. For each entrant let in by your error, you receive a citation. The first two come without penalty, but the third and those after it will subtract from your funds.
If you run out of money, you lose. If too many members of your family die from starvation or sickness, you lose. You manage heat, food, and a mandatory payment for rent at the end of each day, with opportunities to upgrade your inspector’s booth at different intervals.
This game makes several attempts at heavy moral choices, but frequently becomes predictable almost instantly. While some decisions will surprise you, many will provide a setup to an obvious situation or ultimatum.
Papers, Please is a pixelated style game with a surprising amount of detail. With seemingly hundreds of unique faces of entrants, clear and recognizable silhouettes and effects, there’s a lot to be enjoyed visually with this game. Text, which you’ll cross reference with the help of a handy inspection tool, is easily readable at a glance and the view of the outside checkpoint, as unchanging as it normally is, provides a nice place to see if and when something goes horribly awry.
Papers, Please does not include a very extensive soundtrack, instead providing you with light ambient noise throughout most sections of the game. Each paper when moved, each stamp when pushed down, every bullet sound when the border is attacked, or every explosion, it’s succinct enough to provide the proper feeling enough to sell the situation, but isn’t always the most satisfying. The game has a total of three musical scores. One for victory, one for defeat, and the vaguely communistic sounding anthem of a main theme that will get stuck in your head and is perfectly available for listening to from within the game’s files. Interesting fact perhaps, a large portion of this review was written with the main theme on repeat. Glory to Arstotzka.
Papers, Please is a lot of the same throughout multiple playthroughs. While it stays fresh enough to for one, perhaps two playthroughs in succession, this is not a game that will likely be something you’ll want to binge play. However, with twenty possible endings, Papers, Please will likely have you coming back later to try a different path. Will you help a secret order overtake your government, will you actively foil all attempts to soil your great country? Or perhaps, try something else? The fate of Arstotzka is in your hands.
Papers, Please is a fantastic game that more than makes up for any of its flaws with an interesting world, unique recurring characters, and an intriguing way of getting you invested… all from behind the desk at a border checkpoint.
- Storyline – 80%
- Gameplay – 90%
- Graphics – 90%
- Sound – 75%
- Replayability – 75%
Final Verdict – 82%
We greatly recommend you register with your local labor lottery, comrade. Buy a copy of Papers Please on PC or tablet today, you won’t soon regret it. Now go, make Arstotzka proud.