Game Review: ‘Papers, Please’ (Beta)
Oh look… another indie game with retro graphics. What are we today? A cyborg ninja zombie cat? One of the many variations thereof? No, we’re a customs official on border patrol.
Huh. Points for originality I guess.
Ok, here’s how it plays out. You’re a citizen who lives in a fictional Eastern Bloc country whose borders are open for the first time in six years. You’ve got the job of checking everyone’s passports and papers and granting them entry or sending them away. Or even having them detained, which is also in your power. The game is, at heart, a puzzle game that requires a close attention to details. Basically if you enjoy something like Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney but could do without all the bullshit then you should be looking into this work in progress.
The game is divided up into days, each of which requires you to process a set number of people. What begins as a simple set-up – checking each passport to make sure they aren’t foreigners – quickly builds into something far more involved and complex. Political events shape each day, which begins with a newspaper explaining the changes to border policy. Before long you’re cross-checking passports with work permits, looking for signs of forgery, trying to spot incorrect information and breaking out the full body scan to seek out contraband. You get paid at the end of the day based on the number of visas you have processed, with penalties applied to giving or denying access to the wrong people. To close out the day you have to decide what to spend your money on to support your family. Unless you have a perfect run it isn’t long before you are choosing between heat or medicine. It’s a tough choice.
Whilst it may sound repetitive there’s plenty of clever ideas that keep things interesting. You may have a girl slip you a note warning you that her abusive pimp is in the line behind her and begs you to help her. A man and wife arrive but after you’ve cleared him you find that she’s not permitted to pass. A fugitive murderer is reported in the morning paper and may sneak through customs. Although the beta version only goes up to the ninth day there are hints of a larger conspiracy that you could possibly become involved in, and you’re actions on one day may affect the next. Just as you settle into a routine for checking all the papers something throws you for a loop like a persons sex not matching what their gender is listed as on their passport, leading to an awkward full body scan.
Papers, Please is a unique and engaging puzzle game. The simple graphics are well designed and the interface is easy to get the hang off even when new elements get thrown in day to day. The balance between trying to process as many people as possible before the clock runs out and the amount of attention needed to be paid to each person leads to some surprisingly tense gameplay, especially when you have the old lunatic who is always trying to get through on a blatantly forged passport.
Right now the beta version of Papers, Please is available for free download. At that price you have nothing to lose in trying it out. You may, however, find yourself addicted and grinding your teeth waiting for the full version. And now I’m going to play it again.