Papers Please – Glory To Arstotzka
Among other things, last week included my birthday; Yay! =D
It also featured a few games that I didn’t feel were really worth writing a whole review about, so I decided to go back to one I had played through a few times… Everyone’s favourite office job simulator, Papers Please!
For those who are unaware, Papers Please put you in the role of an Immigration Officer at a newly opened checkpoint. You have been picked in the Arstotzka Worker Lottery and must fulfil your role to the best of your ability or shame will befall your family.
You are provided with accommodation for your family and are expected to uphold the laws of the government to the best of your ability.
Your first day at work introduces you to your future. As you walk to work, you see the endless queue of people waiting for your assessment. As you sit in your office, you are greeted with a newsletter from your employers. This introduces you to your workstation, the current immigration rules and gives you some details of current events.
Opening up your handbook will reveal the current rules, for quick reference.
As it stands on Day One, everyone must have a passport and only Arstotzkans are allowed into the country.
As soon as you sound the horn on your checkpoint, the day’s shift begins. The Queue moves forward and the first entree approaches your window. You ask for papers and assess them.
Using your judgement, you need to decide whether to approve or deny the applicant. Correct assessments reward you with payment at the end of the day. Incorrect assessments result in Citations.
At the end of the day, you take your earnings home and decide how you wish to distribute your money. You have several fixed payments to cover, but there are a few optional choices, such as Food for you family and Heat for your home.
Obviously, scrimping on some of these “optional extras” soon has repercussions and can lead to significantly larger costs, later on.
Anyway, Day Two starts and your daily memo informs you of a new rule. Due to the success of the Arstotzkans getting in, now immigrants can enter as long as they have an Entry Ticket. You are presented with a new “Inspection” tool which allows you to cross-reference data and interrogate applicants on discrepancies.
You simply assume you will just need to check the relevant data, but you quickly receive some curve balls and realise you need to scrutinise these documents much harder. You need to check genders line up, issuing cities are correct to the region, passport numbers match up, even names matching across documentation!
By the end of the day, a terrorist attack occurs and Day Three begins with new rules.
This is how the game develops. Each day, new rules are implemented; the details become finer and you continue to try and perform your job as diligently as possible in a desperate attempt to help you and your family survive.
You gain opportunities to upgrade your booth, side with underground factions to overthrow the government, aid in catching fugitives, help lovers be reunited, defuse bombs in your booth, assassinate diplomats and so much more… All from your booth as an Immigration Officer.
This game is truly like no other I have ever played. It seems so tedious, but it becomes so addictive as you delve into this surreal, yet rigorously grounded, world. I can’t say I have felt the same anxiety in any other game. When you are approached by an underground agent and given the name of a target and the means to kill them. A few applicants later, the target arrives and the pang of internal conflict strikes. It is a very scary moment.
You don’t know how the agent will react if you fail. You have no idea how the government will react to this murder and whether they will figure out it was you. But you still need to earn money for your family and you can’t sit there waiting; you are on the clock. Decisions have to be made and they have to be made quickly. This is where I feel Papers Please excels.
People keep harping on about moral choices and giving the player agency in binary choices, but Papers Please executes it very well. It doesn’t make the choices the core gameplay. They sit on the sidelines saying “Hey, we may be relevant later.” and before you know it, you may or may not have made your choice, completely unaware of it. The best example of this is Vince Lestrade.
One of the earlier shifts in the game starts with the daily memo giving you your latest rules updates. Flick to the last page and you have the mornings headlines. Vince Lestrade on the run after murdering wife. That is it.
Depending on how efficient you process your applicants, Vince Lestrade may be one of them, fleeing to Arstotzka for asylum. If you cross-reference his name and the news article, you can interrogate him and have him restrained by the checkpoint guards.
Also, fans of my articles won’t be surprised to know that I like the art style. The washed-out colour palette is perfect for conveying the bleakness of Arstotzka and the muddy pixel art of the characters really makes everyone look miserable. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it makes you feel even worse for denying these poor immigrants who have probably been waiting for days, unaware that their entry ticket was invalidated four days ago…
Now, all that I have said isn’t to say that the game is flawed. It is very hard to look after your family. The game wants you to work efficiently, but keeps throwing spanners in the works that make you second guess yourself, constantly. And that wouldn’t be so bad if the penalty citations didn’t ramp up and impact you so aggressively.
Papers Please is a game you get better at on each subsequent play through. Every time I come back to it, I have to start again. It has a very good learning curve in the way it adds new rules and procedures, but that also means it is almost impenetrable if you want to resume a story after a week or so. The amount of things you need to relearn in a short amount of time is overwhelming. I appreciate that is the point, but it is a little annoying; I have restarted the game maybe ten or eleven times, by now.
I like Papers Please, but I appreciate it is not a game for everyone. If it sounds appealing, I implore you to try it; there isn’t anything else like it.
Ellen believe fully in the realisation of Arstotzka to it’s past glory. All shall hail Arstotzka as the wondrous place it is. Ellen took these screenshots for the glory of Arstotzka and knows Lucas Pope won’t mind as she has declared her love for the great and wonderful Arstotzka.
Last played, but not completed, on 02/09/15 for Steam.