Papers, Please Review: Who knew working in an immigration office could be so gripping?
Glory to Arstotzka!
Papers, Please is the most depressing game we’ve played. In our first play through, we inadvertently starved our whole family to death. Then we got arrested. Then we were responsible for a terrorist attack. Until we got the hang of it, we felt like we were smacking our heads against the Berlin Wall. And we absolutely loved it.
Papers, Please is set in the immigration control offices of the fictional Eastern Bloc state of Arstotzka, after being selected for the position by random employment ballot. The Communist theme is established from the off, and is rarely dropped from then onwards. As potential immigrants and returning citizens pass through the checkpoint, you have to cross-check their credentials against an increasingly complex series of bureaucratic rules, then decide if they should be let through.
You can drag passports, entry tickets, visas, warrants and all kinds of documents around with the touchscreen, stamping DENIED or APPROVED with a thumping finality. The game steadily gets to be more than just satisfyingly stamping things, though. “There’s a man behind me in the queue that wants to take me and make me a prostitute,” one woman tells you as she passes through. “Please don’t let him in…”
The man turns up, all his papers are in order. So what do you do? If you deny him entry, your scant wages will be docked. If you let him in, you’ll inevitably cause grief to the woman that came before. But losing wages means your family (son, partner, mother-in-law, uncle) will either starve, go without heat or die without medicine. If they die, you lose. If your wages get docked to a negative value, you lose. It’s a mean, unflinching game.
Papers, Please puts you in moral situations other games refuse to, and therein lies its strength. Don’t play this game for escapism, because you’ll undoubtedly learn something about the way you think when playing it. It’s tricky, engrossing and offers a political commentary you won’t find in a lot of other games.
You won’t have played anything like Papers, Please before, and it’ll make you consider your luxuries carefully.
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