Today I’ll be taking a look at Papers, Please (A Dystopian Document Thriller), created by Lucas Pope and released in August of 2013. In Papers, Please you take up the role of a newly appointed passport inspector stationed at a checkpoint on the border of the fictional country of Arstotzka at the end of 1982. The country has just come out of a 6 year war and is reopening the borders.
At its core, Papers, Please is a puzzle game where you need to decide if an applicant has a valid passport. Initially, this is relatively simple, as there are only basic rules that you need to follow and you have limited tools at your disposal. However as the game progresses, the number of items that can be fake increases making it quite challenging to always spot errors in a passport.
What really adds to the difficulty is that each day only lasts a few real world minutes and you are paid based on how many people you successfully process. Mistakes earn you citations. Get enough citations in a day and your pay will be negatively impacted. So you are trying to get as many passports checks as you can, as quickly as you can, without making any mistakes.
Outside of the booth, you have to deal with paying daily expenses. You always have to pay the rent, but paying for food and heat are optional. Not paying for food or heat can cause the health of your family to deteriorate, leading them to become sick and potentially die. In short, there’s a lot of impetus to earn a good wage.
Outside of the puzzles of trying to spot discrepancies on passports, there are also plot lines in the game. You may be offered bribes to let people enter the country, you may be able to find terrorists or criminals and have them arrested, or assist certain political factions. These are often also moral decisions: do you help a stranger and put your own job, and by extension family, at risk?
The concept of the game is simple, yet executed extremely well. The art, while simple, sets the tone quite well with its drab, gray world. The music also does an excellent job of setting the mood of the game world.
The game has a story mode, with multiple possible endings, and an endless mode. In endless mode, you can do your best to keep up with randomly generated applicants for as long as you want. The game also automatically saves each day, but you can reload from any prior day.
Overall, I would give Papers, Please an “A”, or 9.75/10. It’s a very well done indie game that is relatively inexpensive, but manages to pack a lot of story and atmosphere in a single room. I am not alone in thinking this is a good game, as it currently has an Overwhelmingly Positive rating on Steam and won several awards in the year after it was released.
If you want to check out Papers, Please you can find it on Steam here. It has also been ported over for mobile and consoles, though the version I personally played was the PC one. For a more complete list of where you can get a copy of the game, you can check out the official site here.