Firstly; a quick note on my review schedule: as I previously mentioned, I had planned to review “Outlast” and “Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs” this month, but upon installing and starting “Outlast” I discovered it wasn’t going to work on my laptop. Well I started up “Machine For Pigs” this morning and although it’s fine graphically the frame rate is atrocious, no matter how many graphic options I turn off or down. I am – to put it lightly – irritated and disappointed. I’ve been looking forward to both of these games for some time, being a big survival horror fan. If I can’t get a new graphics card before November I will at least be able to review “Outlast” when it is released on PS4 around that time, so expect a review of it around then. As for “Amnesia”, I can’t say. I’ll do what I can, but at the moment that isn’t much. In the mean time I’ll be reviewing GTA V and I want to give “Don’t Starve” a look at some point, too. For now, let’s take a look at what is easily the most original game I’ve played this year: “Papers, Please”.
Developed by one man by the name of Lucas Pope and now available on Steam, “Papers, Please” has you working the border in the fictional communist country of “Arstotzka” during the cold war. You walk to work each day, open up your booth and inspect the paperwork of each new arrival- checking for discrepancies against an ever-growing list of rules and ultimately deciding whether or not they can pass into the country. Any mistakes you make with cause a citation to appear, which from the third one on start costing you money. At the end of each day you have to divide your salary up between rent, food, heat and sometimes medicine for your four family members. Your basic task is to keep working and keep your family alive, fed and warm, with various things making that harder.
Said things range from suicide bombers slipping through the border and rules changing due to the political climate to moral dilemmas such as a couple with only one entry permit between them and a woman who will be forced into prostitution if you don’t have her potential pimp detained. As the days go on your booth and powers grow in number alongside the number of different papers you have to check and what’s going on in the world as relayed by the morning paper you see each day.
Strangely, a game in which you sit at a desk checking people’s entry papers is compelling, absorbing and genuinely fun. The graphics are incredibly basic, with pictorial representations of each immigrant popping up in a window while you scour their rough-looking documents. Anyone outside the booth looks the same except for guards, and all dialogue is represented through a garbled foreign language, except for your character, who communicates entirely through croaking the word “Papers.” The graphics and sparse use of sound effects (combined with the catchy and slightly oppressive sounding main theme) work to create a real sense of charm for the game, and let the focus be placed entirely on the gameplay, which is unlike anything else I’ve played this year, and in general the only thing I can compare it to is “L.A Noire”, which doesn’t do it justice. Working against the tight time limit to process as many immigrants as you can (you’re awarded five credits per head), deciding on the fly whether or not to let people without the right papers in on a moral basis and running the risk of them being a suicide bomber is genuinely tense and is involving from the second you start the game.
There are problems, but they’re nothing major. Highlighting discrepancies can be annoying in that the game sometimes doesn’t present information clearly. A few times I was given citations for the person having an incorrect height despite having nothing to contrast their height against, and if the duration of stay they tell you is different from the one on paper you can only turn them away, at least I couldn’t find any way to pick them up on it. The game can also end abruptly for various reasons that contribute towards twenty different endings without much warning, although you can reload your game from the day of your choice so it can be counteracted.
Overall, “Papers, Please” is something unique, original and very absorbing. It pulls off its world and characters wonderfully, and as well as the basic gameplay being great it continues to change and adapt with each in-game day. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but those of you who find the concept interesting enough to check the game out will find something truly worth experiencing.
Glory to Arstotzka.
By James Lambert