Glory to Arstotzka: Papers, Please Reviewed
The Good
  • Provides an ever increasing challenge without being overwhelming.
  • An interesting story with multiple endings.
  • Endless mode adds replay value after the story is finished.
The Bad
  • The story mode is a tad on the short side.
  • The game touts its multiple endings, but many are slight variations on each other.
90%Overall Score

Describing itself as “a Dystopian Document Thriller” Papers, Please is a game quite unlike any other. The concept is simple, every morning you go to work at the border checkpoint for the not so vaguely Soviet nation of Arstotzka. While there you determine whether each applicant’s papers are in order, and accept or deny them accordingly. In the evening you bring your meager wage home to pay the rent, buy food, and heat your home. What keeps the game interesting is that your wage is paid per person processed, and that mistakes are heavily penalized.

Of course, you are now asking, “why would I want to play a game where I do the boring part of being a border agent?” This is a valid question. The job that Papers, Please tasks you with is, on its most basic level, incredibly boring. Strikingly, that very boredom is what makes the game entertaining. There is an ever present temptation to just okay the person asking for entry, but stop paying close attention and soon the penalties will start to add up. It’s a confusing state of affairs, but the game does a wonderful job of providing enjoyment to the player. The satisfaction that you get when you see a discrepancy at the last moment is impressive.

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Another thing that makes Papers, Please such a remarkable game is its excellent pacing. Prior to playing the full version I was concerned that the game would run out of challenge as time wore on. After all, how many different papers do you really need to enter a country? Thankfully, this is far from the case. The game starts off with rules that are easy enough to grasp, but difficult enough to be challenging. The next morning, the rules have changed. And they change again the morning after that. Nearly every day, the rules regarding entry are amended. However, the rules never feel arbitrary and the changes feel like the realistic results of working for a bureaucracy dealing with ongoing problems. A war in a neighboring country may create a need for documentation for refugees, for example. As another, an outbreak of polio, may require you to deny all entrants from a certain country. The game excels in making sure that the difficulty is never overwhelming and provides a consistent challenge over the course of the game.

The other remarkable aspect of the game is its depth. Despite being a design team of one, Lucas Pope managed to fit a large amount of personality and replay value into the game. Each day brings an endless line of people to the border, yet there are always characters that stand out. The loveable, goofy Jorji Costava, the imposing Ministry of Admission Director, Dimitri, or the friendly soldier Sergiu. Even minor characters that only appear twice or three times have personalities and motivations that feel real.

Each day also brings decisions that must be made: Do I support the rebel group who says they are fighting for the good of all? Do I help a soldier reunite with his lover despite her lack of documentation? Forcing you to make these decisions are what make the game truly shine. The game features 20 different endings. While some of these endings are variations on “Game Over,” the game features a number of full, true endings that are dependent on what you do during the thirty-one days that you man the border. The game is certainly worthy of multiple play-throughs.

Once you’ve satisfied your desire for different endings, the game also features a robust “endless mode.” You can choose from three styles of play: timed, perfection, or endurance, and four sets of documents that will be required for entry (effectively, difficulty). The game features a leader board for these modes so you can see how your document stamping skills measure up to other border agents across the world.

Papers, Please had me interested as soon as I played the beta, and the full version is more than worth the $10 price of admission. It  is special in that it makes the player do something incredibly boring, yet still creates a compelling experience out of it. Truly, Papers, Please is an experience that any gamer should be loath to pass by.

 

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