Have you ever wondered what it felt like to live in Soviet Russia during the good ol’ days of the Cold War? Well good news! Now you can simulate the Khrushchev years without the KGB or bread lines.
Papers, Please by Lucas Pope seeks to recreate the strife of the day-to-day comrades of a soviet system. Taking control of the East Greslin, you are given the task of protecting the fictional soviet Arstotzka. This isn’t done through heroic efforts of battle, but instead, through the mindless red tape and paperwork of a border control agent. All the while, you try to make enough money to pay for rent, keep your child healthy, and pay for heating–while never interacting with them, you truly feel a connection to keeping the family healthy and happy.
Papers, Please certainly puts a weird spin on the story of an, otherwise, basic premise. The game has 21 different endings based off of how you choose to play. Will you make enough money to pay for tomorrow’s rent? If not, theres an ending. Accidentally accept a bribe and can’t explain it? Another ending. While not The Walking Dead by any means, the game certainly forces you to choose between heavy options. Should you let in a woman fleeing their death against false murder charges, arrest him to make a bonus to feed your family, or simply deny him passage? Truth be told, I spent most of the time playing the part of the dutiful Arstotzka comrade, yet always made sure to dirty my hands enough to keep from being suspicious.
And while the moral dilemmas are plentiful, the focus is on quick and dutiful work in processing papers. Starting off simply, you are supposed to let in fellow Arstotzkans and deny any other aliens. However, the rules of the game change daily with the news of embargos, terror attacks, and criminals. Not too much further into the game, you are checking four different pieces of documents, the rule book, audio logs, and x-rays for the smallest of discrepancies, any of which will result in a citation (either a warning or docking your pay). With only a small time to whittle aways the endless line of immigrants, the pressure is always high with little profit to be gained.
When trying to describe the title to friends, finding the genre became a hard pressed issue. Part real-time puzzler, part simulation, part Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, the game appeals to a very niche group. Yet, for those falling into that group, me included, I have lost hours to the game on “Endless Mode” awarded after beating the game.
Additionally, there is something to be said about the style of the game. Lucas Pope’s games seem to have a very characteristic 16-bit style that helps encapsulate the mood of the game. While at times feeling archaic, the plodding music, audio, and graphics further the hopelessness and bleakness of the situation the game seeks to encapsulate.
The Verdict: 8.5 out of 10
As a $10 downloadable Steam game, Papers, Please offers a surprising amount of depth to what seems like a simple concept. However, the game simply isn’t for everyone–if you are looking for something more cerebral to break up the FPS or platforming avalanche , this is your game. Though I highly recommend you check out the demo beforehand.