Hold it right there, comrade!
If you ever wanted to feel what it may be like working in a depressing, unappreciative environment that wasn’t at your local Gamestop, does game developer Mr. Lucas Pope have the game for you! Papers, Please could be classified as an “immigration” simulation meets adventure game of sorts, but whether you actually take it for a true representation of its subject matter is entirely up to you. Because by the time you’ve invested a few hours into it like I have, you’re more likely to have seen more action than all of what Colin Farrell had to go through by the end of Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth.
Papers, Please takes place in the fictional country of Arstotzka. You play as a faceless immigration inspector who is tasked to go through the documents of any and all immigrants or Arstotzkian citizens that come to your booth, where you must see if everything presented by these individuals is of order. Once you’ve made your observations, you can choose to approve or deny entry to anyone pass your checkpoint border. The reasons for denial of entry can range anywhere from information mismatch, smuggling illegal contraband, or simply because you just wanted to. Depending on the conditions laid out to you, your actions will carry heavy consequences.
And there are quite a few of them. In fact, the game has as many as 20 endings to obtain, if you so desire to seek them all out. The easiest one to get for me was not being able to financially fend for my family. That’s right, you’re a family man! With a working salary, no less. Perform admirably and efficiently in your job, and you will be paid in absolute peanuts.
"The choices you make throughout your journey are never quite forced upon. You're always given a choice in the matter, but sometimes the overall outcome isn't exactly cheery. "
In order to keep your expenses going, there will be situations where you can accept bribes from certain immigrants in exchange for getting them across the border, or striking deals with your guardsmen. Even though the game penalises you for letting through immigrants who weren’t supposed to be let through, you’re allowed up to three warnings. Any wacky hijinx there after, and your salary will take a hit.
The choices you make throughout your journey are never quite forced upon. You’re always given a choice in the matter, but sometimes the overall outcome isn’t exactly cheery. Do you decide to withhold someone’s entry even if it means their life is at stake, just so your family can have bread on the table that same day? The atmosphere is very morbid in its execution, as regardless what path you decide to take, you’re bound to get emotionally invested.
Gameplay is fairly straightforward, and is actually quite simple to grasp mechanically. Utilizing a click and drag approach, you’re required to take passports, entry permits, and so on by clicking and dragging them onto your inspection table. From there, documents will open themselves up, and you can drag them side-by-side, helping to ensure all the details on-hand match accordingly.
"And while it doesn't run on next-gen technology, the overall droll 2D look used to convey the sorrow-minded setting and characters get the job done surprisingly well. Get used to this locale, as you won't be seeing much apart from it."
When they don’t, simply toggle inspector mode, highlight the discrepancy found, and present your case to the entrant. Its easy to draw comparisons to Capcom’s Phoenix Wright series, in how the player must use logic and memory in order to find the corresponding items that contradict with each other.
Its not an experience I would recommend playing with a touchpad, as I quickly found out. Mouse-driven dragging is much pretty much the way to go, as the game will slowly ramp up, presenting newer means of inspecting immigrants, along with having them present additional documents to stifle through. It can be a bit much, having to observe up to four official papers at a time, while trying to find that one conflicting piece of the puzzle. Thankfully, you have the option of purchasing upgrades for your booth… so long you have the cash to spare, and don’t mind undercutting your own family in case someone decides to fall sick on you.
And while it doesn’t run on next-gen technology, the overall droll 2D look used to convey the sorrow-minded setting and characters get the job done surprisingly well. Get used to this locale, as you won’t be seeing much apart from it.
"Papers, Please understandably leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and rightfully so."
Likewise, despite seeing as many as a dozen different applicants at your booth, you won’t find too many characters you will identify with personally apart from the really obvious ones. Unlike the candidates you’ll frequently have to interview, your own family members remain faceless like you, and are mostly depicted through text descriptions.
Papers, Please understandably leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and rightfully so. You may find great joy in denying a certain person for not getting into his or her own country. In fact, its one of the few joys you will actually attain while transversing through the game’s sometimes “too-close-for-comfort” narrative.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Oddly compelling and addictive. Subject matter is something you don't see a lot in games.
Click and drag interface takes some getting used to. Gameplay can feel repetitive if you're just looking to get to the juicy stuff. Clearly not a game for everyone.
If you ever wanted to experience the helplessness that you went through from playing Telltale's The Watching Dead, mixed with detective skills of Phoenix Wright - I highly encourage you in picking this up.