Papers, Please

By: Derek Yu

On: August 17th, 2013

Papers, Please by Lucas Pope

Set on the border of the fictional communist country of Arstotzka, Papers, Please puts you in the shoes of an Arstotzkan immigration inspector, approving and denying entry to a long line of hapless travelers each day. This entails shuffling documents around with your mouse and highlighting discrepancies in them, such as mismatched passport information or photo identification. With each passing day, your time limit remains more or less set, but the number of possible discrepancies you need to be aware of increases, ramping up the challenge.

This is a lot more exciting than it sounds, since your entire family is counting on your paycheck and a good day on the job will barely allow you to cover the necessities of living. Even when you’re 99% sure that someone has the right papers, it’s always a tense moment as they walk out the door and you listen for the familiar click-clack of a costly citation paper being printed out. But what elevates Papers, Please above a game jam novelty (far above) is that there’s a lot more going on than what takes place in your cramped inspector’s booth – politics, violence, moral ambiguities, and even humor pass through along with the people, and as you keep playing you start to realize how much power you have in your little role. It’s not long before your decisions begin to extend beyond your family’s sustenance (although that remains paramount).

It’s a bizarre premise for a video game, but it works very well, thanks to some great design on the part of creator Lucas Pope. The myriad details and keen audiovisuals bring the small booth of the immigration inspector to life, and from behind the dull counter top I felt more like a spy than in most of the spy-themed action titles I’ve played. Glory to Arstotzka(?)!

  • Tof Eklund

    So excited this is out. I loved the demo for the way all of the game elements combine to turn a bit of mundane repetition into compelling play with an infinitely sharper edge to it than typical “dystopian” gaming.

    Pairs well with Increpare’s Opera Omnia, actually.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, both Papers, Please and Opera Omnia evoke the banality of evil. I’m glad to hear someone remembers Opera!

  • mathmos

    Quite right about those games. I’d also add some of Molle Industria’s output to the list. Maybe also Neocolonialism when it comes out.

  • mtarini

    played the beta/demo and I must say it is intriguing. It immediately reminded me Opera Omnia too, in many ways, but Papers Please comes with a far more polished and elaborated execution, plus it has outstanding art!

    Awesome work,Lucas Pope!

    (on the other hand, one must admit that Opera Omnia tackles a subject which is even more difficult to depict in a game — namely, the role of historians in the construction of a national idenitiy and other sentiment for a propaganda agenda)

    My only criticism is that the price tag is maybe set a bit too high? Or maybe it is just me being a dick.

  • M

    It offers more gameplay time than a lot of shooters priced twice as much, easily 4 hours. And unlike many other games which sell by gameplay time, a lot of the gameplay is undiluted. Near the late stages of the game, you’d need a lot of focus just to keep up with the orders.

    You won’t likely play it just once, unlike many other games where you’d have to force yourself to finish the latter half.

    It’s a good deal for the price tag. But IMO all games are overpriced.

  • Arucard

    I thought the price tag was right on, any higher and I might think he’s pushing it. Fifteen bucks seems way too much, five seems too little, I haven’t regretted my purchase at all. Of course you could always wait for a bundle/steam sale too.

  • Arucard

    Surprised no one mentioned the discrepancy in the top image too, lazy inspectors around here, huh?

  • Christopher Anthony

    Looking forward to the day when I can afford this one. It looks like tons of fun.