Genre: Puzzle (ish…)
Year: 2013
Developed by: 3909 LLC
Published by: 3909 LLC
Platforms: Windows, iOS, Vita
Feeling Like: Glory to Arstotzka

How can something possibly be this interesting, under the shadow of such a mundane premise? You play an identity-less immigration border agent, ensuring that only those with the proper paperwork get through to the “glorious” nation of Arstotzka. The entire game takes place in one room and amounts to what a DMV agent does on a daily basis. Stamp here, don’t stamp there. Proceed, get out. No room for humor. No room for hope. No room for fun?

Hardly. Papers, Please takes a seemingly boring idea and completely flips it upside down. You’ll be on the edge of your seat looking at forms and trying to get a read on the desperate hopefuls. Are they lying? What’s their story? We just got a bulletin saying a band of rebels are trying to enter the country. Consequences are enormous; if they get by and cause havoc, you and your family will suffer. Some may not survive, since money is tight and do you really want to have to choose between heat and food? Punishment from your employer can go well beyond a hit to salary.

Papers, Please succeeds where many others fail; it manages to tell the story through its gameplay. There’s almost no exposition, no cut scenes and no voice acting. I don’t even know if I can call it a puzzle game, it may even count as a point and click adventure. Regardless, throughout each level you’ll be given stricter conditions upon which visitors can enter. At first, it’s just a quick glance at their passport. But things get hairy when they start forcing you to check fingerprints, identification cards, work permits, grants of asylum and more. No, of course you don’t get a bigger desk, comrade. Figure it out. Clock’s ticking.

Wait a minute…The Pink Vice closed down months ago!

You’ll start to feel empathy for those who you can’t let in. They just want to see their son, or husband. They’re a refugee from a war torn country who just want to start over. You’ll start to receive bribes: watches, cash and other…temptations. You’re allowed a few citations for screwing up before they start docking pay, so it’s not impossible to be kind.

There’s twenty different endings depending on who you let in and who you reject. You’ll start to recognize familiar faces like Jorji, the man who has laughably bad forgeries. Or the mysterious members of EZIC, who will continually flood your booth and provide you with great incentive to let their operatives in. It’s not going well for Arstotzka, how long do you stay on a sinking ship?

It’s clever concept and Lucas Pope’s work is impressive. I wasn’t as emotionally engaged as the game progressed, hence the #449 placement. I don’t have any desire to play Papers, Please again. By day 11 or 12, it started to feel stressful like a busy day at work. But that’s no doubt the intention, with the backdrop of overbearing U.S.S.R music and the threat of your family dying every day, what mistakes will you make?

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