Papers, Please
Gameplay 9
Graphics 9
Sound 9

Papers, Please is one of those titles that you have to play in order to truly appreciate. It is hard to try to explain the concept to someone else without making it sound dull, but believe me the game will suck you in. With some thought provoking moral dilemmas and multiple endings you might find yourself coming back to this one again and again.

Gameplay: A truly unique and engrossing experience.

Graphics: The unique visual style matches the mood and setting of the game perfectly.

Sound: Sparse but very fitting

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Papers, Please

Developer: 3909 | Publisher: 3909 | Release Date: 2013 | Genre: Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

It is not every day that you encounter a game billed as a “dystopian document thriller” so my interest was immediately piqued by Papers, Please. The game opens with your character winning the labor lottery, earning him the privilege of manning a border checkpoint between the fictional countries of Kolechia and Arstotzka. It’s not a very glamorous job but it provides housing for you and your family. Do well and you might even be able to afford food and heat but mess up and you’ll soon find how expendable you are.

If the premise behind the game sounds depressing it is because that is what it is meant to be but don’t let that deter you from playing. Playing a lowly immigration inspector is a bit of a shock after all the games that cast you in the role of a hero or savior but it makes for a refreshing change of pace. Your basic purpose is to simply stamp “Approved” or “Denied” on the passports of the people who shuffle into your claustrophobic little post. It all starts off very simple as you only need to check that the person handing you the passport actually look like their photo and that the information on the passport is correct. This seemingly mundane task becomes tenser as the game progresses and additional responsibilities are piled on your plate.

You get paid five credits for each person you process so it is in your own interest (and that of your family) to get the job done as quickly as possible. Of course there are penalties for rushing the job and missing discrepancies in the documents. Your first two mistakes per day will only get you a warning but anything after that and your salary is docked. Believe me it is not a good feeling going home at the end of the day and not being able to afford food for your family because you missed tiny mistakes such as a forged stamp, inconsistent date or one of the many other variables that you have to cross reference. As the rules change and the paperwork pile up your desk becomes more cluttered making it easier to miss things which of course ramps up the pressure even more. After a few hours of playing the game can even start to feel like real work!

The story mode takes place over the course of one month which results in about a four to five hour playthrough depending on which one of the twenty odd endings you unlock. New twists are introduced daily to keep you on your toes and the game has a plot that weaves through the daily grind but I definitely do not want to spoil that for anyone. You’ll encounter plenty of people with a sob story to back up their lack of proper documentation but it is up to your own discretion whether you help them or not. Being the “good” guy might leave you with a starving family while accepting bribes or detaining people who could simply have been denied entry could be very beneficial to you. You might be able to afford the medicine your sick child needs but you certainly won’t feel proud of your actions. It is not all doom and gloom however as there are rare moments of humor as well, mostly centered on a particular character that regularly shows up at your booth. I would have loved to seem more random events introduced as replaying the game multiple times becomes a bit of a grind if you already experienced most of the unique encounters.

The visuals fit the cold, oppressive nature of the job you must do but still manages to have a unique charm. The weary faces of the people who trudge past your booth are far from pretty but at least they are easily distinguishable. The pressure and cluttered work space can still result in you allowing a wanted criminal into the country because the memo is buried under a pile of documents. Weight discrepancies are particularly disturbing as you can scan a person to check for contraband which results in a nude photo popping up on your desk. This has to be done for gender verification as well but thankfully it is possible to toggle the nudity on or off. The audio is quite sparse with only a single (admittedly very catchy) tune that plays at the conclusion of each day. There are some appropriately distorted sound effects with my favorite being the muffled yell emitting from the powered loudspeaker when you click it to usher in the next hopeful.

Overall I found Papers, Pease to be an engrossing experience that captivated me from start to finish. A nice feature is the ability to continue the game from any day you have previously completed which can be used to branch off into a new path without overwriting your previous progress. There is also an endless mode to unlock where you can challenge your skills without having to worry about the storyline. While this is not a title that is fun in the traditional sense of the word, it definitely has to be experienced and is a good example of how a simple concept can be expanded into something so much bigger than the sum of its parts. Papers, Please comes highly recommended but don’t blame us if you find yourself excitedly babbling to other people about the time you shot terrorists at the border post or shouting “Glory To Arstotzka” in your sleep.

*Review originally published 2013.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP or later
  • Processor: 1.5 GHz Core2Duo
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: OpenGL 1.4 or better
  • Storage: 100 MB available space
  • Additional Notes: Minimum 1280×720 screen resolution
  • OS: OSX Mountain Lion (10.8)
  • Processor: 1.5 GHz Core2Duo
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: OpenGL 1.4 or better
  • Storage: 100 MB available space
  • Additional Notes: Minimum 1280×720 screen resolution
  • Processor: 1.5 GHz Core2Duo
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Storage: 100 MB available space
  • Additional Notes: Minimum 1280×720 screen resolution

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