Papers, Please Review

Papers, Please will stress you out with simple gameplay that leads to moral quandaries and weighty choices.

by

Paperwork is never really "exciting." It's monotonous, it can be stressful, and it's rarely very rewarding. Compared to the power fantasies we often experience in games, Papers, Please strips you of just about any sense of control you might expect to have. You are not important, you will never experience the world outside your work desk, and you will perform your job to the best of your ability or suffer the consequences. By making the stakes high and incredibly personal, Papers, Please makes you care about virtual paperwork more than you ever have before.

You won't get a lot of thank-yous working at the border of Arstotzka.

You begin by winning your low-wage, thankless border-inspection job in a lottery, which immediately tells you much about your country of residence. You are given a small Class-8 apartment with which to house your family. Every passport you process at the border earns you five credits, so to pay for rent, heat, and food (not to mention the occasional extra expenses, like medicine), you want to work as quickly as possible, getting to as many people as you can each day.

A steady stream of citizens and foreigners come up to your inspection booth, waiting for you to decide whether or not they will be granted access to your country, whether you'll stamp "Approved" or "Denied." And that's the crux of what you do day after in-game day, making sure documents are current, making sure the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted. You aren't typically solving puzzles or progressing through dialogue trees; you're merely checking facts. At the end of each day, you decide where to spend the money you've earned in a rather Oregon Trail-like checklist of family necessities. If you don't make enough to afford everything you need, tough choices might have to be made between food and medicine.

Papers, Please begins simply, but as time goes on, the rules get more strict, requiring you to check more paperwork and jump through more hoops to make sure you're letting in the right people. Because you have to pay attention to more details, your desk becomes increasingly cluttered and hard to deal with. Even with the rule book right in front of you, it's easy to lose track of what you need to look for. Every second wasted double-checking the rules means another second you can't get more money. Before long, you find yourself stressed about every detail and how long each task takes. The game becomes more compelling, but not more "fun," really. This is not a game to play if you intend to relax before going to bed.

The simplest lines of text can lead to some of the most painful choices.

Papers, Please sounds mundane, and in some ways it is. You take paperwork. You check paperwork. You hunt for and point out discrepancies. You approve or deny paperwork. You call "Next!" and do it all again, over and over, trying to be both speedy and accurate. The game is well made enough to keep your attention with these mechanics, but the real draw comes from the story that's told based on the decisions you make.

You meet many different people while working. Some are rude. Some are kind. A few might even make you chuckle. But what do you do when the kind ones come through hoping to find a better life in your country, only to find that their paperwork isn't in order? What do you do when you know someone is going to perform vile acts as soon as he crosses your border, but you have no legal reason to refuse him entry without getting in trouble for it? There are also other forces at work here, asking you to do questionable things for what may or may not be the greater good. Whom do you trust? How do you proceed? Think quickly, because the clock is ticking.

There are often no tangible benefits for doing the moral thing in these cases. There is no paragon meter to fill, no guarantee of a sweeter reward on the other side. Being immoral might actually make things much easier on you and your family. The only thing keeping you from doing the wrong thing is your own conscience.

There are rare moments of welcome levity with a few characters.

But the moral quandaries are so real, so relatable that your conscience speaks to you more than it does in most other games. The decisions feel like they matter. Even if you're the kind of person to always take the "lawful good" route, to always take the high road in games, you're forced to commit acts for which you might hate yourself. If you don't, you and your family will not survive the winter. The fact that a few sentences of text accompanied by retro-style graphics can make you feel as bad as you do is impressive.

So maybe you occasionally stick your neck out for somebody in need. You can make two mistakes a day without penalty, so if you're good at your job, perhaps you can afford to let a rule or two slide for the sake of keeping a family together. Or maybe you'll be more selective with your "generosity," choosing to help only those who can make it worth your while with bribes or favors. Maybe you'll develop and obey your own kind of morality, like only detaining people who try to smuggle in weapons or drugs (bonuses for detaining people be damned).

In many ways, you are forced to become the kind of person that many real-life people despise. By putting you in the shoes of a regular man in a contemptible position working for a corrupt system, Papers, Please forces you to understand and pity someone you may normally not give a second thought to. That in itself is an accomplishment for any storytelling medium. There is a greater story being told over the course of the game's 30 or so days (the length varies depending on several factors), at the conclusion of which you earn one of 20 endings. The tale of spies, terrorism, and corrupt governments is engaging despite its relative simplicity.

Being buried under paperwork has never been so absorbing.

But it's not unsatisfying as a pure game, either, despite its repetitive nature. There is plenty to make this much more than a simple choose-your-own-adventure narrative. When the story ends, you can unlock a set of endless modes that let you keep playing if you want, with online leaderboard spots to compete for. Endless mode is far from the game's main attraction, but it's a good addition for those who find something to like about the act of checking papers itself.

Papers, Please will stress you out. At times it may even make you hate yourself. And while it's weird to call such an experience "enjoyable," the gameplay itself is not a miserable time. It's worthwhile for the same reasons a depressing novel or a bleak movie can be worthwhile. There are lessons to be learned from Papers, Please, if only to remind ourselves how much worse off we could be.

The Good
Moral choices that feel like they matter
Gameplay is compelling despite its monotony
An engaging story that isn't too preachy
The Bad
Can easily 'cheat' by restarting days
Pointing out discrepancies is finicky
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Britton Peele is a freelance writer for GameSpot and a Digital Entertainment Editor for The Dallas Morning News. Find him on Twitter @BrittonPeele.

Discussion

63 comments
tylorboleychuk
tylorboleychuk

I dont understand how this game has an 8 let alone a 5. I had 0 enjoyment playing this game and there is no compelling story worth mentioning .

r3xminie
r3xminie

This game deserves more. I think it's quite fair to put 8.5 or even 9 for this game. I've played this game and honestly..? i never played this kind of game since the first time i play video games, back in 1998. it's very original, and simply a mind blowing game. The unique story telling and gameplay mechanics which makes me sit for days! As for the graphics? Don't get me wrong, i always liked fancy-crafted games like COD series or Sims, NFS, Starcraft, etc.. but when it comes to the "NOVELTY IN GAMEPLAY MECHANICS".. this game successfully "forced" me to love this retro-styled graphics as the "perfect match" for its gameplay. Simply put: this game it's beautiful in its own way, i love it.. and now i begging for more. As for the creator (dukepope-if i'm not mistaken).. great job, man.. you just created one more demand to be fulfilled in the future ;)

pyro1245
pyro1245

This game is alright. I like hearing what some of the different people have to say and I get a chuckle out of it every now and then. You know what it felt like though? Work. That's a con.

Hordriss
Hordriss

A very worthwhile game, especially with it being on sale on Steam at the moment.


Certainly different to almost any other game I've played, and bizarrely compelling.

tchanah
tchanah

Seems like the change I really need. let's play this! 

foxhound_fox
foxhound_fox

This game is brilliant. Never has monotony been so utterly engrossing.

iBuSHiDo
iBuSHiDo

This isn't funny. I lived this for almost 6 years. I was a security guard in a freight area of a building in Manhattan. The only people coming through my area were delivery guys, messengers, catering guys, or contractors. Over the 6 years the rules constantly were changing. My orders were constantly changing. My management was constantly changing. I was in a small booth type of room just like in the game. Add some water bugs, 10 hour days, certificate of insurance requests, freezing in the winter and melting in the summer, and Papers, Please was my life. I don't know how the hell I survived it. 

With that said, this game just depresses the shit out of me as it reminds me of how bad it was for me in that job. On the other hand it cheers me up when I stop playing it because it reminds me that I no longer work that job. I feel that as a former security guard, I have a much more personal relationship with this game, but not in a good way. It's like an annoying ex-girlfriend that won't stop calling you even though you've told her for the last time that she's nuts and you don't want to talk to her again. 

Now I'm depressed just writing about it. I need to go play a game that'll cheer me up. Perhaps I'll go play Dark Souls, Dead Space, Dear Esther, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Shadow of the Colossus, Dishonored, Alan Wake, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, Year Walk, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Home, LIMBO, or one of the other fine, happy-go-lucky, cute, nice-ending kind of games I have. o_O

advocacy
advocacy

On sale now on Steam, only $4.99 (50% off).

shermenz
shermenz

I've just played this, and it's addictive and fun.
It's so different then all other games, that it's quite difficult to put into words why this is a fun game, but it is.

Glory to Arstotzka!

8.5/10

no_proxy
no_proxy

Surprisingly a good game for such a small game,  reminds me of the  games of the 90's

it can be boring and annoying when you check the papers repeatedly and there is no other way to detect discrepancies other than checking every line and every picture, also when you do every thing correctly but the money smiply is not enough.

GrubMan7
GrubMan7

How do you define fun???

CodingGenius
CodingGenius moderator

It's such a good game.  The social message is incredibly painful, but it's an amazing experience nonetheless!

garysingh34
garysingh34

Fucking hell, just get a job in Border Agency - you will be doing the same thing all day! lol

Warsilver
Warsilver

This is actually a really fun game.

Zevvion
Zevvion

I finished it. If you don't play it, don't bother calling yourself a serious gamer.

hitomo
hitomo

a game that simulates real life and social itnteractions is not really a game ... but ofc addicting for people who lack what the program simulates

axelx666
axelx666

the reason why this game works is because IT MAKES YOU FEEL COMMITED.

you want to care for your family,you WANT to keep your job, you don't want to get in trouble..that's why it's addictive and works..and the characters, when they speak to you, you feel as though they are ACTUALLY talking to you. when i play, actually talk back (i hope im not the only one)

AMAZING GAME! and i have nothing more to say


...Glory to Arstotzka!

AshTrai
AshTrai

Oh cool the full game is out? I played the beta(demo?) and it was bizarrely addictive although i've never worked out why. 

I suspect it's my love of analyzing stuff

TheXboxgamer73
TheXboxgamer73

Does anyone know how much different the paid version is from the free builds that have been out for some time now? I loved the free version and would definitely consider the paid version if it adds more to the mix. 

komuchen
komuchen

I'm surprised, because at first I tought "damn, another overrated, boring-ass game with forced originiality", but I took a risk and bought it and bam, 3 hours wasted. What a great game

But what really blows is time limit (without conspiracy, I don't know how actually can you make money) and actual conspiracy (they find out you have the money, then investigate, you can't tell on cult to authorities, and cult says the guy to fix it will be in two days, and day later game over, you are jailed).

hadlee73
hadlee73

I love games like this (I also liked Oregon Trail, and the zombie version Organ trail too). Really well written review too.

doorselfin
doorselfin moderator staff

GLORY TO ARSTOTZKA 

GSGuy321
GSGuy321

An amazing game imo. And I'm generally a triple-A guy. But an addictive game is an addictive game. Deserves at least a 9.0 imo.

DrMabuseSenior
DrMabuseSenior

... I Work at an immigrations control post in a major European airport. Let me say straight out: It Aint that exiting. Sorry if any illusions of exiting perils, strange and difficult choices and huuuuge moral dilemmas gets busted.

Its 99.991% routine. And that good. Because 99.991% of people are good.

That goes for the game too: Its Good. Nothing more. Nothing less.

/Dr. Mabuse

sigmact
sigmact

so they made a game about a "real work" and made it turn well...? id say they deserve a 9 at least

SKaREO
SKaREO

What a dull review of an amazingly addictive game. It's a nostalgic throwback to MS-DOS games of the 80's. I sort of feel bad for the reviewer, because he was clearly raised on games that hold his hand and provide instant gratification. He's probably used to playing games where he is the hero, the single-handed savior of the world, the protagonist of a murder simulator, etc. This is like all the games of the 80's where you're not special until you do something special to deserve recognition. You don't get any sense of accomplishment until you actually accomplish something. It's a great game, and as simple as it is, it's addictive and rewarding. We need more games like this.

JorjiCostava
JorjiCostava

Arstotzka so great, passport not required!

disneyskate
disneyskate

Harvest Moon feels like work and it's an amazing series. Your point is invalid and overly subjective to boot.

hitomo
hitomo

ist about the things you lack in your real lfe, interactions with People that lead to hard choices where you have to test your own principles and moral and learn to deal with the consequences ...

if your real life would Feature all of this you wouldnt Need to Play something like this, but maybe real games that woud test your creativity

ofc this is an social smulator ... what else? ... whats the main activity in this game?

at its heart this game is about voyeurism .. thats what keeps you playing

SlashHacker
SlashHacker

@hitomo You got me. My life suffers from a severe case of not being an immigration officer.

Renoo27
Renoo27

@hitomo Hah! You think this is a social simulator? Nice one. 

lucasbf
lucasbf

@axelx666 I also did talk back. but then again, I was drinking wine while I played
:D

SlashHacker
SlashHacker

@TheXboxgamer73 Well, like you I enjoyed the free beta and I bought the full version. It adds many more days of work, full storylines, many endings (like the review mentioned), new documents and new rules. Also, the gun shooting mechanic has been added. I was very skeptical during development but I actually like it now. All in all, if you liked the beta I recommend the full game.

Matt_Hazard
Matt_Hazard

@komuchen You said, "Without the conspiracy, I don't know how you actually can make money."

Well, first of all, you can choose between things like food or heat. Second of all, in the options, there is an "easy mode" crutch that gives you an extra $20 automatically each day.

I used the "easy mode" for a few games until I got the hang of it. Then I reverted to "normal mode". It's really a lot of fun!

Matt_Hazard
Matt_Hazard

@DrMabuseSenior LOL. No kidding it's nothing like real life. Comparing this game to actual immigrations and customs is like comparing Call of Duty to actually fighting in a real life war. I can bet it's going to be, like, 99.999% different.

With that being said, you would need to judge this game based off of it's genre. Judging it to real life is kinda harsh.

Renoo27
Renoo27

@SKaREO Wtf. Did you even read the review? He clearly thought it was great. 

hadlee73
hadlee73

@SKaREO I agree that I'd love to see more games like this. However you should also be thankful that they gave this review to a freelance journo and not someone like Tom :P

axelx666
axelx666

@JorjiCostava  im sorry,but Cobrastan is not a real country. please come back with a real passport.

and we are no longer accepting entry tickets, please have a Entry Document.

SlashHacker
SlashHacker

@hitomo I don't think it's even possible to live a life without having your principles tested and having to make decisions that have serious consequences.

This game is appealing partly because of  the specific setting and the profession of your character. I don't think many gamers have first-hand experience with working on the border of a communist country. The particular dilemmas you face in the game are something you just won't face in real life unless you have a job that comes with similar power and similar responsibilities.

The main activity in this game is checking and stamping documents. This does not fall within my definition of social life.

komuchen
komuchen

@Matt_Hazard @komuchen I've got hang of it and unlocked endless mode 2-3 days after this post. It is easy to check 15-20 people, only thing you must understand how this game works

Papers, Please More Info

First Release on Aug 08, 2013
  • Macintosh
  • PC
  • Unix/Linux
7.9
Average User RatingOut of 158 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Papers, Please
Developed by:
Lucas Pope
Published by:
3909,
Genres:
Adventure