[Game Review] Papers, Please

Set in the fictional communist country, Arstotzka, you play the immigrant inspector accepting or denying visas. Developed by Lucas Pope in 2013.3

Ever taken an international flight to a foreign country and felt nervous passing through the immigration checkpoint? Papers, Please aims to turn that around and put you in the role of immigration inspector. Instead of working in a nice modern airport booth, you’re assigned to the Ministry of Admission in the war-torn dystopian nation of Arstotzka.

The game is a lot harder than you might think.

Story

Papers, Please has 20 endings max, and similar to a visual novel type of game, your choices affect certain outcomes. The entire game is played in 31 days, and the “calendar” serves as your loading screen; it auto-saves every end of the day.

I think the approach while playing is very realistic. Just like being in the actual shoes of an immigration inspector, you have to decide whether you let certain people through (for better or for worse), but sometimes the right choices causecitation citations from the Ministry of Admission which cut your pay. It doesn’t sound all that bad until you realize you’re under a time limit and the amount of people you entertain equal your pay (and you realize you don’t get paid much) and that you also have to think about your own family to feed and keep warm. Saving people’s lives, and doing secret (or even illegal) things is all on your hands. With 20 endings, Papers, Please definitely shows the reality of  a dystopian world.

Sometimes you meet new friends along the way. Sometimes you lose these friends, too. There’s a lot of stories you come across. If you notice the letter below the rulebook in this photo, some citizens pass letters or bribes. It’s your discretion whether to follow what they ask of you or not, because you can get penalized by your government but receive help on other things later on. It depends on your own values, and these choices really open up a lot of different outcomes. Although there are a lot of endings, as I said, you play 31 days, so trying to achieve all of them is one long process.

Gameplay

Personally, I found this game really stressful (in a good way) because I was challenged in a way I hadn’t been before; I underestimated how difficult it was to remember all the details and rules while ensuring all the documents I received were in fact valid, and that I didn’t waste too much time.

discrepancy

You get surprised after accepting a visa and realizing you didn’t even check to see if their gender was correct or if their photograph matched their faces. It really made me think of how I do my own documents, too. It’s very interesting to put yourself in the inspector’s shoes. A lot of your decisions or inaction weigh heavily on someone else’s life and even the news.

At a later point in the game, your booth gets upgrades and you’re able to control more than just the entry of people: who gets to go to jail, and even who gets shot. gunzFrom these kinds of events, a lot of different outcomes can spawn whether it be from the earlier stages or the later ones. It pulls a hell of a lot of pressure on you because sometimes you root for something and you fail to achieve your goal. I don’t know how many times I had to restart a day because I kept missing my target.

Audio

Music used for the background is ambient, the sound of a crowd and cars passing by. Each time a person enters the booth, the music dies down, allowing you to focus. I’m glad that the developer didn’t feel that each scene needed a musical score to play in the background. It makes it a much more realistic experience; it’s very immersive and helpful not to have distractions.  Sound effects are perfect and in-sync. The theme song is also unforgettable.

Graphics

Very interesting interface and lovely pixel art.

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deny visa accept visaAnother small thing to note, I like that each time you stamp a visa, the stamp actually shows up on the same spot you stamped it on rather than having it automatically centered. Sometimes people will give you forged documents that are close to the original one or ones that are blatantly fake. I appreciate how the developer didn’t limit himself to the main visual set-up and allowed more creative and out of the ordinary events to occur in a serious kind of game.

Conclusion

Finished in a play time of about 4 hours. Foul language and pixel art nudity are present, although it is not pornographic material, as you really use it to confirm a person’s gender, but you are given the option to disable the nudity. There is also a fair amount of pixel art violence and blood. This is a great game, although the amount of time it takes to achieve more than one ending is so long, and even just repeating a day to get a desirable result takes very long that sometimes I give up 😅. It’s very insightful and a great play and trains your brain to memorize and do quick scans especially when you play “Endless Mode” where you can choose different kinds of sets to play.

Rating: 8/10

Papers, Please won numerous awards such as Forbes’ Top Indie Game of 2013 and many more. Check the rest on their website. Purchase the game on Steam/Humblebundle.

 

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