- Developer/Lead Designer: Lucas Pope
- Release: PC/Mac, 8 August 2013
- Genre: Puzzle
- Players: 1
- Rarity/Cost: DLC, US$10
The nice thing about the indie game scene, as is becoming increasingly apparent given the glut of bland shooters that the triple-A publishers appear increasingly reliant on, is its willingness to take chances on unconventional genres. I mean, gone are the days where paying for something like Silent Service (NES, 1989) or Wall Street Kid (NES, 1990) was considered acceptable. So it is with some degree of interest that I chanced upon the likes of Papers, Please near the end of this past summer. This game, it turns out, was inspired by its creator Lucas Pope's experiences as an American living abroad in Japan, and all of the immigration finangling he had to deal with.1 The closest thing I could compare Papers, Please to is one of those spot-the-differences puzzles, albeit with immigration documents. So does the game manage to make this concept compelling, and if so, how? Read on.
|You must search for discrepancies and|
interrogate the person about them.
Certainly a concept like this could never make for an interesting game unless the story was up to snuff, but thankfully, Papers, Please has this checkpoint covered, so to speak. The immigrants who attempts to filter through your office are for the most part randomly-generated, but there are also a great deal of scripted events. For example, say a husband has his papers in order, but next in line is his wife who has an error in one of her papers. According to the rules, you would have to separate them. But what would happen if you let her through? Or say a journalist attempts to enter with nought but press credentials, which your superiors won't accept? Would you prefer to face her newspaper-based wrath, or would you let her in and accept the penalty? And then there's the sub-plot involving the mysterious anti-governmental organisation EZIC (not to be confused with Ezio of Assassin's Creed II). Are their goals worth pursuing, and what will happen if you do or don't complete their requests?
|New forms of documentation come into play throughout the game.|
But say you'd prefer to soldier on and play this game by the book. No problem, it's just one of the many ways to experience Papers, Please. Your incentive to keep making money is to provide food and heat for your family, but let me tell you, I'd feel much more compelled to do so if they weren't represented simply by icons on a status screen. Let's see, what else can I pick on... The graphics have a pixellated, late-80s aesthetic which undoubtedly made the game simpler to design, and thus enabled the developer to focus on writing stories for all those characters, but the lack of detail can make it difficult to compare people's faces with their passport photographs, for example. Also, why do the people in this universe have multi-coloured skin? If I had to guess, it's either to stay in line with the palette limitations he's trying to emulate, or to diffuse our expectations involving race. If so, then well played, mister Pope.
Just because Papers, Please employs a set of nations and peoples unlike our own, that doesn't mean we can't gleam some insight into our own world from it. When you have a repressive system, say the Arstotzkan border controls, there are people who play by its rules, and there are people who run counter to the system, either in the form of bribery or simple requests. As such, moral choices are pervasive in this game, and for once they're not always good versus evil. More often than not the situations force us to choose between reason and emotion; in literary terms, these are conflicts of an Apollonian versus Dionysian nature (or if you'd rather, a Spock vs. McCoy nature). And the possibility that breaking the rules may yield something more interesting, if not better, down the line is a much-needed way to spice up the concept. So whether you feel like making a difference in someone else's virtual life or you'd prefer to look out for number one, there's no wrong way to play Papers, Please -- except to not play it at all.
Controls: 4 passports out of 5
Design: 5 passports out of 5
Graphics: 4 passports out of 5
Audio: 4 passports out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)
1Gwaltney, Javy (April 14, 2013). "Glory To Arstotzka: Papers, Please And An Interview With Its Creator". CultureMass.