Posted on October 14, 2013, Phil Hornshaw Papers, Please Review: Border (Double) Crossing
At some point, the sob stories don’t really bother you anymore in Papers, Please.
“Oh, my wife needs a life-saving operation she can only get in your country.” Are her documents in order? No? Sorry, pal. Yesterday, several people were blown up because of someone I let through my border checkpoint.
And as the immigration officer at the border checkpoint of the Eastern European nation of Arstotzka in the 1980s, Papers, Please puts these situations to you early and often. Do you want to help the secret group attempting to overthrow the overbearing government? Do you want to stop the Arstotzkan citizen who has been recruiting women in neighboring Kolechia to be strippers or worse? Do you let the woman through who claims she hasn’t seen her son in years? Do you take bribes from drug dealers? Do you take bribes from guards who want you to detain as many people as possible?
All these questions are pitted against the very real dangers that seem to be facing Arstotzka. Smugglers bring in contraband. The occasional dissident will rush the border and often kill guards. There’s a reason the border needs guarding in Papers, Please, and the best part of the game is that it constantly challenges you by asking what you’ll do with the power you have over people, some of whom need your help, and others who are out to manipulate you.
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac
Released: Aug. 8, 2013
Available: Steam, GoG, Humble Store
Papers, Please is described by creator Lucas Pope as a “dystopian document thriller,” which is about as elegant a summation as is possible for the game. You’ve been transferred to the checkpoint at the Arstotzka/Kolechia border, and your job is to analyze passports and the people who give them to you for discrepancies, then determine whether the traveler should be admitted into the country or not.
The more people you send through your checkpoint before quitting time, the higher your pay, so efficiency is key to success. This is especially true because you earn next to no money, and you have to support your family back home. If you can’t afford heat or food, they might get sick, forcing you to pay for medicine. And what’s worse, the rules for entering the country become more and more complex over time, requiring more checks and more effort spent on each traveler. Screw up and approve or disapprove travelers incorrectly, and you’ll rack up warnings that eventually result in fines.
So on the surface, Papers, Please is a puzzler in which your job is to spot the differences in various documents when compared to your official templates. As things get more and more intense each day, you’ll struggle to hit your quota to keep your family alive, and that can lead to more screw-ups, which costs you more money. The downward spiral of your family slowly dying off because of your failures is pretty bad in and of itself.