Papers, Please is a game I was unaware of until I saw a let’s play video of the demo some weeks ago. It’s a game set in the fictional Communist country of Arstotzka, and you play as a border official whose job it is to ensure that the people attempting to gain access to your fine country have all the necessary paperwork in order to proceed. To start with it’s very easy – only let in Arstotzkans. Brilliant, this’ll be a doddle. But it’s not as easy as that; there are, as you might expect, several other things to contend with as well as making sure the nationality is correct. The expiration date must be correct, the issuing city has to be valid, and you even need to check the sex on the passport as some of these sneaky bastard will try to get in with fake passports which say that they’re female when they are QUITE OBVIOUSLY male. Or so you think.
The game gets harder and harder as you progress, with day 30 (the game is played over a one-month period in November and December 1982) giving you masses and masses of paperwork to sift through. Yay, overly-suspicious Communist regimes!
As well as each playthrough being split into 30 days, you can start a new game at any point during the month. This opens up the possibility of going back to a decision that might have gone sour for you and changing it into something a little more pleasant. Of course, this also means that the game follows the same basic storyline each time you play it. The first few days are now etched into my memory so they’re almost a speedrun, trying to get as much money as possible in the short time you have each day.
We’re not going to Disneyland this year, kids
After each work day, you are presented with a screen which shows you how much money you made (5 credits for each person you process) and where the money is going. You are the sole breadwinner in your househould and you have to make sure that you earn enough to keep your family fed and warm, and also to keep a roof over their head and buy them medicine if they get sick. And they seem to get sick a lot.
The game throws more and more stuff at you each day, with state-of-the-art equipment (for 1982) being installed at regular intervals. This keeps the game nice and fresh but also adds a hell of a challenge if you’re trying to get applicants through as quickly as possible – at later stages it can feel a little overwhelming. At several points I found myself staring at the screen and wondering what the hell to do first. But, if you can get your head around it and get through the day with no citations (BLOODY CITATIONS!) then it can be very rewarding.
Invalid issuing city my arse
One last thing; those citations. You check and check, but then a little ticket prints out at the bottom of the screen and tells you that you missed that one thing and you’ve been fined 5 credits. WHAT THE HELL, I CHECKED EVERYTHING, HE WAS FINE! Still, although it may sound like the dullest game ever created at first glance, it’s actually fantastic fun. I’ve lost whole afternoons to this thing.
Glory to Arstotzka.
Papers, Please is created by Lucas Pope and is available on Steam.