Papers Please Review (PC)
It’s difficult to write a short, punchy headline about Papers, Please, because short and punchy wouldn’t do it justice. I could tell you that it’s a passport check simulator, but that’s neither punchy nor interesting. And yet, it’s accurate. I think it would be best to say that Papers, Please is a perfectly limited RPG. I’ll stick to that.
I have to say, I’ve been putting off writing this review for several days out of fear I won’t do the game justice. As mentioned above, it’s a passport check simulator at its core. You are a newly appointed control officer at the border between the fictional countries of Arstotzka and Kolechia, and you regulate who enters The Great Nation of Arstotzka and who doesn’t. However, each day something changes. Perhaps a terrorist attack happens near the end of the day, forcing you to go home early. The next day, your booth has a scanner that lets you check suspicious characters for weapons or contraband. Or, the political powers that be employ trade embargoes, affecting who can receive access. Despite the shallow looking premise, Papers, Please is a very deep game.
Some of the most clever things in it are hidden, tucked away for you to find when you least expect it. Everything that happens in it finds a new way to affect the player. I was terrible at my job to start off with. I got tons of citations for letting the wrong people in the country. After a while, an inspector came and, due to my poor performance, I got a “Diploma of Sufficiency” to hang up on the bleak wall that I use to see if people’s heights are accurate. It was something and I hung it there with a small sense of pride, even though it might as well have said “Well done. You exist”. A few days later, a woman commented on what a useless piece of paper it was. I caught myself swearing at her as if she had insulted me personally. This is just one of those moments. The game sets you up for them and you don’t even notice until it’s already happened. And then there are the smaller things you notice as you pore over your rulebook to see if a city was spelled correctly.
Even though the world in Papers, please is only present in the form of passports and related documents, it is as rich and rife with intrigue as the real world, to the point where I would almost refuse to go to work the next day, for fear I could trigger an international crisis. Your life as a simple passport control officer gets a lot more complicated than someone in that position (and with several mouths to feed) wants to.
It’s not a beautiful game. Not on the surface. The graphics are jarring and muddy, but they paint the atmosphere of oppression so well, you can’t help but smell the smog and feel the taste of iron in your mouth. You get characters that are there to make your life hell and some that brighten up your day, and some that are CLEARLY male, even if their passport says otherwise. The game’s sound is equally bleak. There isn’t much music, and every character speaks in a broken, digitised impression of a voice. The little music that does play (in the main menu and the game over screens) is at once both dismal and joyous, reflecting the game world perfectly.
All in all, Papers, Please is one of those rare gems of a game that holds a mirror up to the player. There are a lot of ways the game can end, and you will find yourself responsible for each and every one of them. The game is best served with some previous experience of struggle with one bureaucratic system or another. I say this because Papers, Please is like a thick gruel. It’s not pretty, and it might make you wince sometimes, but it’s surprisingly good for you.
5 documents out of 5