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Papers, Please Review – Glory to Arstotzka!

Papers

“Papers, please,” I ask of the immigrant now standing in front of my inspection booth. She mentions something about being excited to be reunited with her family and whatnot. I ignore her comment and scan over her information, quickly realizing her identification card reads “M” for male. I point out the discrepancy to the woman who quickly tells me she is whatever the card says she is. Her name is even a female name. I ask her to step to the body scanner, which she does, and the machine proceeds to photograph the woman front and back. The results print out in my booth, an x-ray picture of the women, —who is clearly a woman. I also notice that she has some items strapped to her leg. Could they be drugs? Medicine? A bomb? A package of cigarettes? I don’t know.  But without a second thought I call in the guards to haul her off to wherever they take smugglers.

You see, my son is sick and one of the guards gives me a tip for detaining immigrants since his pay is based on how many detainees he processes. I just may have ruined that woman’s chance of a new life, or the rest of her own life…but it doesn’t bother me. My son needs the medicine.

Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please tests players in more ways than just one. It tests player’s ability to correctly analyze information in a fast-paced, stressful environment, and it also tests a person’s morality. A few hours into the game, in my growing desperation to provide essentials for my family, I was surprised just how much my sense of morality was able to warp.

Every day in the game, players must process as many immigrates as they can before the workday ends. It is in processing these arrivals that Papers, Please presents players with the game’s core gameplay mechanics. Largely a simple matching game, Papers, Please requires players to correctly follow an ever changing (and growing) set of rules that determine how each immigrant is dealt with. A woman from one country may need extra identification papers, while a man from a different country just needs one ID card. Coming into Arstotzka for work? Better have the proper documents. Just passing through? Better have the proper documents.

Of course, not everyone has the proper documents, and that’s where the player comes in. Identification numbers must match on all documents, all papers must be approved in the proper districts from their own countries of origin, every picture must match (you will be surprised how many times that slips by), birthdays must be accurate, all documents must be current, and so on. As the game progresses, these demands become harder and harder to keep track of. One slip up, on anything, will net the player an ugly red paper citation. After a few warning citations, any further mistakes begin chipping away at the player’s daily paycheck. Mess up a couple of times and suddenly you can’t afford the heating bill for the night. Mess up too many times and you are thrown in jail and it’s game over.

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Luckily, players are able to dispute any discrepancies that may arise. With the press of a button, a player can identify an issue and begin “interrogating” the immigrant. Sometimes the interrogations are as simple as asking for an extra document that the immigrant simply forgot to provide. Other times (like the example in the opening paragraph) are more complex and may require fingerprinting, body scans, or guard intervention.

Because each day is a level, restarting a game simply means restarting from the beginning of that day. However, the immigrates themselves, apart from a few story-driven characters, vary each time a level is replayed. Along with an “endless” mode to accompany the regular Story mode, Papers, Please offers plenty in the way for multiple playthroughs.

Papers, Please rewards players by paying them at the end of each day. With the collected income, the player can then elect what to use the money for. It is essential to keep the family members alive, so food, shelter, and medicine, are needed. If the family dies, the game ends. The stress of providing for the family quickly presents itself as day after day players have to rapidly and effectively process individuals who half the time are attempting to deceive the player. A looming pile of citations on the player’s desk can add to the agitation of the day’s events. Papers, Please is not a relaxing game.

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But, with that said, Papers, Please is not trying to be a relaxing experience at all. From the beginning, when the game’s powerful —yet menacing, title score starts playing, it is clear that Papers, Please, much like the dystopian government of Arstotzka, has an agenda. Players will learn what it feels like to be a small piece to a mighty, controlling political machine. A machine that rumbles on to glory, at whatever the cost may be.

Glory to Arstotzka.

Papers, Please official website

[review pros=”A unique, and innovative experience. Easy to pick up and play. Thought-provoking without being forcibly so. Near endless replayability.” cons=”Can become a stressful experience.” score=90]

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IGM's Editor in Chief. Particularly enjoys games that let him break things. You can reach him at tom@indiegamemag.com or on Twitter: @tomscott90