[Review] Papers, Please: Just Your Daily Grind In Dystopia


The anxious amongst you need not apply, but lucky for you it’s a lottery! And your name has been pulled. Arstotzka welcomes you! (No, I can’t pronounce it either.)

 You’ve been put in charge of Grestin border checkpoint, happily snuggled against Kolechia, a state that Arstotzka has just ended a six-year war with. Instead of being a plucky hero, you’re just trying to get by in the monotonous yet morally laborious world of immigration control. Will you sell your morals to keep your family fed and warm for the night?



This is your desk. There are many others like it, but this one is yours.

Papers, Please is a surprisingly dark puzzle game that puts your investigative skills to the test in an against the clock fashion. You have to process as many people as you can in as little time as possible. Your ‘work-day’ ends at 6pm sharp, and you do not get paid for anyone processed past this time. You get a paid $5, per person correctly processed through your checkpoint, and you struggle to pay for rent, food and heating for your family. The investigative element smacks of Ace Attorney but without any of the fluff that comes with it.



Interrogation mode. One of your detection gadgets.

The goal of this game is simple: Follow your orders. Your day-to-day goals may differ slightly, new paperwork to be checked, new requirements to put people from ‘Impor’ through, but the core orders remain the same. You must find the illegitimates amidst the throngs of people trying to get in: the spies, the smugglers, those who would damage Arstotzka and her inhabitants. You must find them out by inspecting their documents for discrepancies, whether that be gender, expiry dates, or mismatching reasons for their visit. If they meet your criteria and that of the rule book, you may stamp their passport with a green stamp and let them be on their merry way. Others will get the red stamp. So that’s how it works, rhythms of yes and no, red and green. That is, until people start talking.

I think of myself as a hardhearted person, but this game got to me after a while. I denied access to a mother who had not seen her son in years, just because her entry ticket was a day too old. Denied access to a wife, who’s husband I had admitted just seconds earlier, because they had only one entry ticket between them, sending her back to a country that would have her put to death.



Just one of the hard choices that you’ll encounter.

This game is engrossing, and you’ll soon find yourself really engaging with your role. Reading this review you might fear that processing these documents may become dull or boring. Papers, Please manages to dance between the margins of boring and creates this bizarre and enthralling experience that dares to test how much you’re paying attention. Papers, Please occasionally lapses into repetition, lulling you into a false rhythm in order to catch you out later. I can say my heart beat was through the roof playing this game, and it was constantly challenging.

The user interface is incredibly tactile, moving pieces of paperwork to your desk in order to inspect them, flicking through a rule book in order to scrutinise a passport more fully, and I think it really adds to the feel of the game in it’s entirety. The further along into the game you progress the more paperwork you handle, the more cramped your workspace becomes. It has incredibly simple design, greys and reds bringing to mind police-states and the attempted communist societies of the past. But despite the incredibly simple appearance and washed out colour pallet, this game lives and dies by it’s writing. The short snatches of sentences that you share with prospective immigrants makes this game grim, and compellingly human.



The branching saving system comes in handy.

At it’s heart Papers, Please is a tale of human suffering, and how much you’re willing to do in order to alleviate it. Will you let these people through and neglect your family of heat for the night? It’s a fine balancing act of sacrifices in order to keep both your family and your morals intact, and trying not to drown in paperwork.



Possible the cutest arch nemesis to your bureaucratic system.

Worth it? And then some. Tense, tons of immersion and frankly, a fantastic UI. A rare find that is not an instant-satisfaction kind of game, but rather an intense experience that’ll keep you thinking at night.

Thoughts? Comments? Hand-drawn documents getting you down?
Use that comment box below.


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