The bureaucratic experience portrayed in Lukas Pope‘s Papers Please mightn’t look like a lot of fun if you’ve ever worked in office, but behind the monotonous border control setting, there’s an award-winning game with an increidble amount of depth.
- Moral choices
- Simple gameplay
- Lack of replayability
In Papers Please, you’ve been allocated a job as a border agent at Arstotzka, a fictional Eastern bloc country that’s just reopened its borders although it still doesn’t have great relations with its neighbours.
The core gameplay is pretty simple. In fact, you’re doing little more than playing “spot the difference” against the clock, ensuring that the person standing in front of matches the details on their paperwork and highlighting any discrepancies.
There are also survival elements to spice things up. At the end of each day, you’re paid based on the number of border crossings you’ve processed and have to choose whether or not to feed your family, pay for their medicine, or heat the flat that the government gave you as part of the job.
As the days progress, your job gets more and more difficult. While on your first day of the job, you only have to let in nationals of Arstotzka, after a week, you’ll be ensuring that foreigners have the appropriate work permits, aren’t carrying any contraband, and that their story matches their reasons for entering the country.
The story is one of the game’s strongest points. As you check papers, you encounter refugees fleeing war-torn countries, human traffickers, or innocent people just trying to reunite with their families on the other side of the border.
Unfortunately for you, these people rarely have the right paperwork and you have the tough choice of letting them through and running the risk of having your pay docked or turning them away and worrying about your own moral decisions, which you’ll often see play out at work during the following days or as a grim headline in your morning paper.
While the narrative is carefully constructed and provides a fascinating nuance to your daily tasks, certain scripted events will harm the game’s replayability since you’ll know what’s coming.
Visually, the game has a lo-res pixelated art style and it works well with the grim 1980s behind-the-iron-curtain setting. It’s not the most beautiful game but it’s aesthetics are suitably bleak.
The sound design is phenomenal and the opening music immediately lets you know get a feel for the game. The gritty sound effects are the icing on the state-issued cake.
Papers Please is a game that’s as enjoyable as it is simple. Behind straightforward gameplay loop, there’s a world of narrative that leaves you with tough moral choices to make between doing the right thing and blindly following the orders from your superiors. There’s nothing boring about pushing these pencils!