Papers Please Review
Papers Please Review

Papers Please Review

Glory to Arstotzka.

Papers Please Review
Release Date
August 8, 2013
Lucas Pope

Papers Please is among the most intriguing and memorable games I have ever played. As I write this review, I find it difficult to express through text how it all comes together to create an experience that is unlike any other game in recent memory. I feel that Papers Please is greater than the sum of its parts, and its incredible presentation and challenging gameplay work together to create an unforgettable experience.  In case I’m not being clear; I really like this game.

Its October 1982 and your name was pulled from the hat in a labor lottery, which makes you the newest employee of the Ministry of Admissions in the communist state of Arstotzka. You are immediately assigned to the newly-acquired Grestin Border Checkpoint, which was a significant fixture in a 6-year war with your neighbouring state, Kolechia. For your first day on the job, your task is relatively simple. You are instructed to only allow Arstotzka citizens through the border, denying all others from neighbouring states. Sounds easy right? Well don’t get cocky because things in Papers Please get complicated really quickly.

Papers Please Review - Mismatch
Looks like you’ve got a few digits that don’t line up, sir.

With each passing day, the story drives you forward in interesting and unpredictable ways. As events transpire, you will be instructed by your superiors to diligently review new forms of documents and execute new procedures to deal with border threats. As these new documents and procedures are rolled out, the complexity of the game skyrockets and you find yourself frantically reviewing documents while trying to service as many people as possible. As this happens, the interface will start to get very cluttered and disorderly, but that’s part of the design. You’ll definitely wish you weren’t in a tiny little booth as the added desk space would certainly make your life easier. While I appreciate the sense of disorder this creates, as the entry requirements in Arstotzka get increasingly complex, you will find the clutter irritating and clumsy.

Papers Please Review - Fingerprints
This one looks like she checks out. I’ve been wrong before though…

Further adding to the stress of the gameplay is the fact that you have a family to feed, so you have to work fast and process as many people as you can so that you can put food on the table. If you struggle to make ends meet, your family will start to suffer the consequences. This sense of urgency counteracts your desire to be as thorough and accurate as possible, as the faster you go, the more mistakes you inevitably make. As you make mistakes, your pay at the end of the day is penalized and your ability to support your family is given a mighty blow. The story is constantly winding and weaving, and you are often not convinced your family will survive another day cold and hungry. The game is always throwing obstacles in your path.  I know that I am being very vague with regards to the story events, but I am doing that intentionally. The story is great, but once you play it through once, you have more or less experienced what the story mode has to offer. While there are multiple endings and a few forks in the road that can lead you in interesting directions, generally speaking you are following a linear path. The story is fantastic, and with that in mind I wish to take absolutely no chance in spoiling it. You must experience it yourself.

Papers Please Review - Criminal
Oh snap! We’ve got ourselves a criminal!

While the story is compelling and the gameplay intense, the real beauty of Papers Please is in the details. The music, art, and presentation all come together to make the world come alive with drama and suspense. The characters are believable, and their attempts to deceive you are clever. Nothing is ever as it seems, and you begin to realize that your work is both risky and essential to the security of your state. As the days go on, you are faced with moral predicaments that begin to weigh on your consciousness. You almost begin to feel bad for that young woman you reject, and for that mother trying to visit her son. You start to get the sense of the politics at play, and form your own opinions about who you should trust. All of this is possible thanks to the incredible attention to detail in Papers Please.

Papers Please Review
Review Summary
Papers Please is one of the most unique and enthralling games I have played in recent memory. Its incredible design and challenging gameplay make it a game that absolutely everyone must experience. It is proof that compelling gameplay and thoughtful design can propel indie games into categories of their own with ideas that take us in new and exciting directions.
The Good
Unique premise.
Incredible atmosphere.
Challenging gameplay.
The Bad
Interface can become cluttered and difficult to use.
  1. To be fair, the cluttered interface enhances the game. It creates additional challenge (working out a good sorting system).

    During development Pope talked about how the rifles work the way they do because he wanted the keys to get lost in the shuffle, and I think that that’s sort of emblematic of how the game “works”– you need to figure out a good system before you can even start to succeed.

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