And now you finally can, thanks to indie developer Lucas Pope and his game Papers, Please. The game puts you in the shoes of a nameless citizen of Arstotzka, a fictitious, dystopian Eastern European cold war country. The October labor lottery is complete, your name was pulled and you’re now a border inspector at the Grestin border checkpoint. It’s your job to make sure that only people who are allowed access to the glorious nation of Arstotzka actually cross the border.
Being a border inspector requires a lot of attention to detail, and the rulebook provided by the Ministry of Admission grows quite thick as the game progresses. Thankfully, Papers, Please does a good job of easing you into the rulebook. It starts out easy, with a simple passport and entry ticket check, but after a few days of in-game time your desk will be cluttered with documents on each arrival: Passport, identity supplement, entry permit, work permit, diplomatic papers, vaccination papers – you name it. And you have to pay attention to everything, miss a vaccination card discrepancy and the game might be over.
But there’s more to Papers, Please than just looking at papers in your border booth. Being a border inspector, you have the power over life and death. Should the Grestin citizen who will be killed if he returns to his home country be allowed access to Arstotzka even though he doesn’t have the necessary papers? Or should the poor woman in front of you be allowed to reunite with her husband even though her entry ticket has expired? It’s up to you to decide this, but keep in mind that the government is seeing everything you do. Break the rules, and you will receive a warning. Break too many rules, and you’re the one who have to flee for your life. There’s an intriguing story going on in the game, but I won’t spoil anything for you.
As for replayability, Papers, Please does not score too well. Yes, you could sit down and play to complete the game it in all the 20 possible ways you can, or you can play it in endless mode. But, not surprisingly, looking at papers eventually does get a bit tedious. At $9.99, thought, the game still offers good value for your money. Personally, I clocked more than 8 hours of game play – over several sessions, I should add – before I’d had enough, and I might return to the Grestin border checkpoint should I feel the need to look vigorously at identity papers and work permits again.
Papers, Please is a truly original idea that’s brilliantly executed. And with the massive abundance of indie games these days – I doubt no one really knows the number of zombie games on Steam Greenlight, Kickstarter and indiegogo – Papers, Please is something truly unique. The game has created a lot of buzz in 2013, and Wired went as far as to crown it their game of the year. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as to call i game of the year, but Lucas Pope has created a great game and it will be interesting to see if he is able to follow up on the success of Papers, Please.
Glory to Arstotzka.