During the 20oo’s (please pronounce as 20-aughts), PC gaming was considered dead. Thanks in part to Steam, PC has now become a bastion for gamers, offering some of the most creative independent games ever seen. Most are incredibly fun, like Gunpoint, while others such as Gone Home tell one of the most compelling stories within the medium. Then there’s games like Papers, Please. Though original and solidly crafted, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.
The premise is simple, you work as a ID inspector for Arstotzka, an invented Soviet-esque country in a Cold War era. Your task is simple, check ID’s and either allow or deny entry. You’re paid daily according to how many ID’s you’ve processed. The meager earnings must then be spread across food, heat, and other necessities for your family. Every day has a time limit, only allowing for so many checks. This is where the anxiety comes in.
As the days go on, more and more stipulations are placed on your verification process. First only Arstotzkan citizens are allowed. The next day, all nationalities. A terrorist bomber, taking out himself and the border guard, cutting the second day short. The third day, all foreign visitors require a ticket. The next day, the ticket must be an entry permit. Eventually, you must verify the seal for every country, check the expiration date on the idea, use either fingerprinting or body scanners on potential terrorists, verify your findings against the rules of the day, and more. Honestly, it became a bit tense. Two unpenalized mistakes are allowed per day. On the third, pay is docked.
Developer Lucas Pope did an incredible job simulating the tense situations that no doubt have real life parallels spreading back for the last 50 plus years. Therein lies the problem, it was a little too good. I found the game to be too tense. I felt pressured into processing as many ID’s as possible (I averaged about 8 per day). As the verifications became more complicated, I was prone to making more errors. Eventually, I was barely able to survive the day. Coupled with the depressing feeling I had playing the game, reminded of past and present world events where situations like this were common, I couldn’t bare to continue. Of the 31 playable days, I stopped somewhere around day 14.
The graphics and sound helped convey the drabness of the situation, adding, or detracting from my experience. That is to say, they were so effectively depressing, that playing was a sad experience.
Papers, Please is a solid puzzle game, with an infectious environment. I found no fault with the mechanics. It presents a solid puzzle experience with increasing difficulty. Sadly, its premise was too effective, detracting from my experience. I wouldn’t say this was a bad game, just not for me. Your mileage may vary.
Sound like your cup of tea? Which of the 20 endings did you get? Comment below!