Papers, Please review

Seth Barton
20 Aug 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

A brilliant lesson in human behaviour, with a dollop of history, all wrapped in a puzzle game



Papers, Please doesn't feel like a game designed primarily for entertainment. You are a citizen of a repressive soviet state in 1982, assigned to work at a border crossing, via a labour lottery. You must check the paperwork of those queuing to cross the border. It's more like work than gaming, but then that's part of the genius.

Papers, Please

From the off, you're plunged into soviet-era brutalism

You will have to work hard if you want to 'win' this game. Time limits for each level are tight, forcing you to check documentation quickly and accurately. At first, it's only passports, check the picture against the person at the window, make sure it was issued at a real office and ensure it's still in date - simple.

Papers, Please

Some action occasionally breaks out on the upper portion of the screen, but your work is mainly confined to the lower section

Within a few rounds though you'll be wading in paperwork. Passports, ID cards, entry tickets, work visas, embassy accreditations and more. You'll have to spot the discrepancies quickly and highlight them onscreen in order to access interrogation, fingerprinting, search and detention options. And you'll want to work quickly and get it right as you have a family to provide for and anything less than excellence will quickly see your wages slip, and your family suffer.

Papers, Please

Spot and highlight discrepancies to bring up further options

The pressure of having to hit your targets and the detail-driven intensity of the work created a remarkable reaction in us. We'd shush our colleagues during lunchtimes in order to try and concentrate better on what feels like a second job. We became livid with applicants who had to be asked for all their paperwork, wasting our precious time, or who had failed to arrive before their permits had expired.

Papers, Please

Strip searches and the all-powerful denied/approved stamp, it's not jolly fare

It certainly feels more like work than play, but putting you under this kind of pressure is essential as the game then starts to feed you little moral tests. Will you let a woman through after her husband, despite her paperwork being lacking; or will you stop a violent pimp from coming into the country after being tipped off by a woman who is being trafficked, despite his paperwork being in order. It would be nice to help everyone, but you have your own problems and following the rules not only keeps you out of trouble but also gets you onto the next applicant quickly.

The graphics are distinctly Lo-Fi though they conjure a world more engaging and evocative than the vast majority of multi-million pound 3D extravaganzas. The starkness of the pixel art sits well with the grim subject matter and the dirge-like opening theme has haunted us for days.

Papers, Please

Keep an eye on the state newspaper, as it provides hints and clues

Each level of the game consists of a few minutes of hectic clicking; you can put it on easy mode if you want a more relaxed, but equally evocative, experience. The applicants vary, but certain characters and situations are fixed for each level. You can replay any level, and you'll want to if you have a really bad day at the office. Finishing the game, and getting one of numerous endings, takes around 4 hours. It's well worth a couple of plays through, plus there's an endless puzzle mode for those who really enjoy the toil, not our idea of fun though.

Papers, Please could be described as a rather odd puzzle game but its far more than that. It's a brilliant little piece of social commentary. When 'playing' you're too busy to think about the arbitrary decisions you make: you may enter, you may not, next! Once you've stop playing though it really hits home just how quickly you have been become a cog in a repressive regime, even if it's a virtual one. It's a chilling lesson and one that videogames are in a unique position to make.

More, Please.



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