Every now and then, a game comes along that when you see it, you stand back and think; “How in the world is that going to make for an interesting game?”. Papers, Please by Lucas Pope is one of those games. From the outset it looks like someone has taken the menial idea of checking people’s travel documentation and turned it into a drab looking game and partially, that’s right. Papers, Please is based on the developer’s own dealings with border patrol. But it’s so much more than it first seems.
The story sets you as the winner of the October Labor Lottery and your job is to inspect the documentation of travellers that wish to pass into the glorious lands of Arstotzka, ensuring that all of the paperwork is complete and valid for that person's travel. It all sounds simple enough, right? To start with, it is. Soon, your tasks mount up and you’re having to check all sorts of information, across many different forms of ID, travel tickets, work permits and so on. Get anything wrong and the least of your worries is a citation from the Ministry of Admission for letting through an underhanded liar. Beyond that? I’ll not spoil any of the surprises for you there.
The story expands as you continue through the game, leaving you ever more vigilant about even the slightest sniff of something that looks wrong. But since that vigilance is against the clock, you've also got to be worried about getting enough people through the gates, to make sure that at the end of the day there’s enough in your wage packet for you to keep your family healthy, warm and well-fed. Your pay is directly related to the number of people you correctly let through the border. You’ll be fined if you try and let people through without vetting them first, so don’t just let them through at will thinking you’re going to make any money.
Inevitably, this leads to mistakes. When you make one mistake and check your citation, you start double checking for that particular discrepancy more - and start to forget about others, leading to even more mistakes.
That’s what makes Papers, Please so damn entertaining though, especially if you’re a stickler for the details. The tense moment that you let someone through the border is momentarily the most antagonising wait you’ll have every time, as you wait to see if you’ve checked everything correctly and that no paper has been left unturned. It’s the very nature of piecing the puzzle together with the human nature of wanting to be ‘right’ that keeps you playing over and over.
Graphically, it’s all very simple, with a pixelated low-bit colour palette that retains a certain coldness of exactly what you’re doing and a low, fixed resolution that intentionally keeps the area that you have to manage your paperwork in to just slightly above “desk fit for a mouse” and just below “desk big enough for paperwork” which all adds up to the mounting challenge facing you day-in, day-out.
The music is satisfactorily fitting, too, and doesn’t get overly repetitive even though you hear it at the end of each day in game, it lends itself to the feeling that you’re forced to continue plodding onwards.
In the early days, you will become sick of hearing the sound when you click for your next denizen to come forth, however, all is forgotten by the end of the first week as you’ve either become desensitized to it, or you’re too slow at getting people’s details checked and through the border and in that case, you’ve got worse problems than hearing the sound repeated.
There’s numerous different endings to the game too, which means you’ll be playing slightly differently through each 30 day time-period and that means there’s plenty to come back for. Thankfully, you can continue your game from any day you like, so you needn’t play through the same days in order to make changes to the choices you made. This leads to the only real downside that this game has. Because of the decision to make the game playable in this way - each day’s ‘unique’ choices are somewhat fixed into that day's schedule - something you’ll notice on repeated playthroughs. However, given the ability to start from any day in the schedule, it won't be too noticeable too much but it could have added more gameplay to have had them somewhat randomised. That said there is the endless mode, which removes the story-based elements from the game and has you competing for a high-score instead.
The game is immensely good fun, if you can get past the initial hurdle of thinking that the game only has you doing paperwork for a fictitious eastern European country and is indeed a very comprehensive puzzler.
Papers, Please (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Every now and then, a game comes along that when you see it, you stand back and think; “How in the world is that going to make for an interesting game?”. Papers, Please by Lucas Pope is one of those games.