Papers, Please (PC) review
"Papers, Please is mercilessly satirical with its subject matter, taking place in a fictional backdrop of Second-world countries. Some of it is blatant, with the various propagandising, to the more insidious. As a Customs Inspector, you are responsible for processing several applicants a day, whether foreigners or Arstotzkan natives, and going through their paperwork meticulously. Glory to Arstotzka."
If video games could be said to have a noir genre, Papers, Please would be firmly stuck in it. Set against a fictional backdrop of a handful of Second-world nations, you play the role of a Customs Inspector in the Glorious Nation of Arstotzka, which has just opened its border following the conclusion of a war with Kolechia over the border town of Grestin.
Papers, Please is mercilessly satirical with its subject matter. Some of it is blatant ("Glory to Arstotzka"), but much of it more insidious. As a Customs Inspector, you are responsible for processing several applicants a day, whether foreigners or Arstotzkan natives, and going through their paperwork meticulously. This involves looking over the bread-and-butter of every applicant, his or her passport, along with multiple supporting documents that are added, removed or expaned throughout the game, and attempting to find any contradiction or error. If the person's paperwork is all in order, he is clear. If not? Go home.
It does not matter whatever sob story you hear. Want to Approve the lady whose husband you just let into Arstotzka, but whose personal papers are invalid? Citation. How about letting in the lady who has not seen her son in over a decade to the war, whose missing her Entry Permit? Citation. Arstotzka so great, passport not needed, except it totally is.
The Inspector can make a couple of mistakes a day, and that is about the most that can be tolerated. You get a daily salary with a set amount of 5 Credits for each person you process correctly. If you make more than two errors in a day, Arstotzka's Ministry of Admission starts docking you in the form of Penalties. At the end of the day, you have budgeting choices to make. You absolutely must pay your Rent every day, but both Food and Heat bills are optional. Your family may go hungry or cold, but it is better than going bankrupt, being arrested and having your family sent back to your hometown. But be careful, because if you scrimp too much, your family may all get Sick on you, and if you cannot pay for the Medicine, relatives may die. If the Inspector becomes the only remaining member of his family, he will be arrested and the game ends. In Arstotzka, men are expected to raise large, healthy families to continue the nation's strength.
As a result, if you play the game correct, each of the game's 32 days can become a harrowing trial. The more people you process, the more money you can make and save at the end of the day, but the faster you go, the more possible it is to make a mistake. Papers, Please properly escalates in complexity over time. On the first few days, you need only make certain a person's passport has a Gender and photo that line up with the person standing in front of you, as well as a valid issuing city for the originating country, and that the passport has not expired. As the game drags on, you will need to make certain pieces of information such as a person's name, date of birth or passport number correspond across several documents, that his or her height, weight and physical features match up with an identity supplement, that he or she has been vaccinated for polio in the last three years, and so on.
In the early game, if you spot an error, you can straight up Deny a person's application and send him or her out the door, saving precious seconds that can be spent on another application. Later on, however, as the game's background story progresses, other nations grow impatient with Arstotzka's rigid ways, and to save face, the Ministry of Admissions requires the Inspector to give a Reason for Denial.
To do so, you must point out a discrepancy in a Denied application before sending the person away. This is done by entering Inspection Mode, opened with a simple button or mouse prompt. In Inspection Mode, you can click on any two pieces of information or objects: be they your desk and the statement in your rulebook mentioning that all applicants must have a passport, the 'M' next to Gender in the passport and the person in front of you who is obviously female, or the audio transcript where a woman says she is visiting friends and the line on her entry permit that clearly says she is here for work.
Upon pointing out a discrepancy, you can Interrogate the person over this. Some people will be able to rectify their mistakes, such as producing a missing document. If all subsequent investigation proves fruitless at turning up a mistake, you wave them through. Some will bluster, and they can be denied. A select few discrepancies, however, allow you to 'Search' a person. Unlike how the term sounds, this is merely a simple Scan of a person. If you locate contraband or weapons on him, you can have him Detained. If she claims she has two names when you point out her Work Pass has a different alias, you can Fingerprint her and detain her if the fingerprints record claims she has no known alternate identities.
The law is absolute in its judgement. Perhaps that is why terrorists attack so often, with multiple scripted attacks that will cut the day short, decreasing the possible earnings for that day. The storyline slowly builds in the background, and some of these terrorists, while still faceless, are revealed to be working for a shadowy organisation known as The Order of the EZIC Star, or simply EZIC for short. Throughout the game, the Inspector can choose to complete the various requests EZIC agents make of him, allying with the Order, or rejecting them altogether and staying loyal to Arstotzka. A third possibility that opens up near the end of the games is to confiscate enough passports of Obristan coming through and, with enough Credits for bribes, sneak out with his extended family in the dead of night to immigrate to Obristan.
There are a total of three good endings in the game, along with seventeen bad endings and several instant death endings. However, many of these endings are repeats, six of them possible within the same day with only very minor variations in your actions.
The glut of similar endings is an easy-to-spot sympton of Papers, Please status as an indie game: all of the game's programming, art and music were done by a single person, Lucas Pope. This reviewer was able to tolerate the drab brown-and-grey graphical style, vaguely NES-like in how incredibly basic and sprite-like it looks, fitting as it was to the Cold War-era theme. However, only a few sound tracks exist in the game, and the reviewer found himself quickly toggling off the music. Arstotzka need no variety, but he certainly does.
Papers, Please is only as difficult as you wish it. Multiple scripted entries every day mean you can know ahead of time whether to Approve or Deny certain people, speeding through their processions and taking more time with randomly generated entrants. By having a cheatsheet on hand, you can pause the game and verify that the issuing city and all seals, whether Ministry of Admission, Ministry of Labor or Diplomatic seals are all valid and not forgeries. An Easy Mode option gives you a large leeway with a free 20 extra Credits a day added to your Salary. A true conniver could even use the Print Screen button on a computer to examine documents without running the in-game timer out every day.
But you can ignore that, and play it all straight. The reviewer did this for a playthrough, and found an enjoyable indie game in the process, one that got repetitive after a while, but also one that does not overstay its welcome, being certain to wrap up quickly enough while still keeping fresh with new rules, new mechanics, new intrigue to the behind-the-scenes plot. Glory to Arstotzka.
Community review by darkstarripclaw (October 11, 2013)
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