Papers, Please Review

Time to bring out the big red DENIED stamp!

  • Developer: Lucas Pope
  • Publisher: Lucas Pope
  • Release Date: 8 August 2013
  • Time played: 5 hours

When I first saw the news of this game I was blown away by its premise; a computer game where you play an immigration officer processing people's visas? How on Earth could that be any fun? The retro look to the game and the fact I was curious to know whether Lucas Pope could authentically capture how it feels to be an immigration officer (or any public servant for that matter) did have me intrigued though. I waited for the game to go on sale and when the price went below $10, I thought it too good an offer to pass up. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.

Plot (4/5)
Papers, Please has you playing as a citizen of the communist nation of Arstotzka during the 1980s. During the national labour lottery, your name is pulled to be the immigration officer for a new border checkpoint. You and your family are allocated a "Class-8 dwelling" and you eke out a meagre existence by approving and rejecting visas.

And that's about it. There's not actually too much of an initial plot but Pope's done a really good job in making Arstotzka a believable Eastern bloc nation. The occasional story-line NPCs either make provide some comic relief or have you pause as you listen to their please for leniency. Sometimes you even feel guilty for your actions (especially if you're playing an incorruptible immigration officer). The story does develop further as the days pass and you'll be given opportunities to make life or death decisions – even decisions that affect the future of the entire nation! That's pretty impressive power in the hands of one immigration officer.

Gameplay (5/5)
The bulk of the game is spent in your immigration checkpoint. Your job is to process as many visas as possible before the end of the day. The more visas you process (i.e. accept or reject), the more credits you earn for your family. At the end of the day, you use these credits to provide food, medicine and to pay utility bills. If you don't receive enough credits, your family could start dying and pretty soon it's game over. "So what?" you might say, "just process more visas then and problem solved, right?" Besides Day 1 of Campaign mode, it's not that simple.

Papers, Please is a game about identifying discrepancies. At the start it's simply identifying any discrepancies in the passports you receive. However, as the days progress, in typical bureaucratic fashion, more and more rules emerge, and more and more documentation is thrust upon you to check for discrepancies. Eventually you'll be checking four documents for discrepancies and scanning individuals for contraband and this all takes time, which means less credits. Less credits means not being able to provide for the family. Fear not though, you'll sometimes receive the option to accept bribes from shifty characters but if you're the incorruptible sort, this will obviously result in a huge dilemma. Do you accept the bribe just this once since your son really needs medicine or do you keep your record untarnished and try to quickly process some more visas before the day ends?

This has definitely been the most entertaining game I've played to come out this year so far. The gameplay is innovative, the setting is novel, and its retro feel takes me back to the early 90s.

One interesting thing I noticed though is if you dig deep enough, you realise the game is pretty much a hidden object adventure game – but you don't feel like you're playing one since instead of looking for particular objects, you're instead looking for discrepancies in someone's passport. So be warned! If your friend loves playing hidden object adventure games, they're probably an immigration officer in disguise!

You need to earn enough after the end of each day or your family suffers as a result

Sound (3/5)
The game has minimal audio and an equivalent to a lo-fi, Slavic Simlish when people talk. I guess the reason the audio is lo-fi is so that it can give the game that retro early 90s feel and to minimise the size (the game is only around 30MB!). While it doesn't bother me too much, to make the scores fair I have to give it a 3/5 which is a similar rating to other games of that era (i.e. games with decent audio in the 90s that were reviewed in the past on this blog).

Music (5/5)
There's really only one tune in the game that really sticks in the mind but it is ridiculously memorable. It sounds very similar to the Song of the Volga Boatmen which seems appropriate for the game's setting: a Communist nation of the 80s.

Graphics (3/5)
Papers, Please has an early 90s look to its graphics which I actually like. However, to make the score fair I have to rate it similar to graphics of the era (i.e. games with good graphics in the 90s have in the past received 3 out of 5 on this blog).

Replay (3/5)
I've actually played the game three times but I didn't give a higher score since full play-throughs (i.e. playing the game until you get one out of 20 endings) tend to be short.

Polish (5/5)
I didn't notice any serious bugs while playing which is refreshing to see nowadays.

Score – 8/10

Papers, Please is set to be the biggest indie hit of the year, perhaps even Game of the Year. While some may be turned off by the retro feel, others will embrace it. Regardless of your stance concerning production values though, none can deny the genius of making a game where working as a humble immigration officer is actually exciting!

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or a DRM-free version on GOG .

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