In a growing trend of games that set you as a worker in a highly unglamorous and monotonous job role, Papers Please places you as the winner of the labour lottery who has been assigned to tend the new border check office in made up country East Grestin. Your job is to monitor the paper work and make sure only the right people cross the border. While doing this you’ll have to juggle your family life and make sure you meet your daily quota.
The mixture of family and work sets up an uneasy moral compass which may see you denying access to the neediest people who lack the correct paper work. Every time someone slips through the net you are warned and fined and do this too much and you won’t be able to pay for food, rent and medicine for your family. Neglect them for too long and they will die. Fall into dept and the game ends with you being dragged off by officials.
The game has a grim and grey graphical style which perfectly fits the tone of a suspicious and paranoid eastern bloc country. Each morning you walk to work and enter your basic kiosk. A line of silhouetted figures stretches out of the kiosk as far as the eye can see in a never ending parade of people waiting to get across the border. Clicking on the loud speaker summons each person with a depressing sound and they trudge in to see you.
Each day there are new rules and regulations to adhere to. It starts fairly simply with citizens just needing a passport and soon ends up with all manner of paper work ranging from work visas to tickets and diplomatic passes. Each document needs to be checked for details such as dates, gender and validity and cross referenced. This all takes time and you still have that quota to meet each day.
During your checking people will offer you bribes or other incentives to let them through and it’s here that much of the story of game develops. Many things remain untold and you are left to think what happened to the wife you didn’t let pass or the urgent medicine that didn’t have the right documentation.
It won’t be long before body scanners are introduced to check for weapons and contraband and the occasional terrorist attack will also occur. This normally results in the day ending early and even less pay for you to take home to your family.
It’s fair to say that it does take some time for the magic of Papers Please to shine through. The idea of doing a repetitive and monotonous job for hours on end in your spare time may not appeal but it’s the dark and twisted humour that creeps its way into the game that will keep you hooked. It’s also amazing to see how quickly you begin to turn cold to the needs of others in order to save your own skin.
You may start out feeling guilty for turning people away but we found ourselves soon putting up an emotionless wall and quickly denying access to everyone without the correct paperwork. As if to illustrate the point your actions directly have there is a newspaper published at the start of each day which may contain the consequences of your decisions as stories.
Overall, Papers Please is an original and unique take on a kind of point and click adventure. It illustrates how seemingly small decisions can have wide reaching consequences and also acts as a social study on the player and what they are willing to do to make sure things stay in their own interest. It won’t be for everyone but it certainly should be tried by as many people as possible as there is some subtle and really quite clever writing and programming at work here. Once you get the paper stamping bug it’s hard to quit and you’ll always think you can press on further with your next go.