One of my favorite games of 2013 gets the review update it deserves.
This week is a double Steam Update week as I’ve been too busy to work on a new review. I should also mention that I’ve taken down my review of Crysis on Steam today, pending a future update. Whether I’ll actually re-review that title remains to be seen. I still have a block on EA games and I haven’t decided if I really want to re-review their older titles that still exist on Steam. I took it down because my opinion on those games have changed. This won’t be the last review that gets taken down probably so I’ll mention those when I do.
A Paladin’s Steam Review: Papers, Please. Glory To Arstotzka’s Boring Yet Compelling Job.
- Genre: Point & Click Puzzle Simulation
- Developed & Published by: 3909
- Platform: Windows, Mac and Linux.
- Business Model: Base Game.
- Copy Purchased by Myself
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
You are a border guard of Arstotzka, a fictional government that has forced you into your current job. Your job, I might add, is to get as many people processed through the border as quickly as you can. The more people you process correctly, the more money you earn for the day. However, the job is made difficult with forged documentation, lists of rules you must make sure everyone has adhered to and an ever-increasing pile of paperwork to sift through. As you make mistakes, it costs money and could potentially get yourself jailed if you’re that terrible at your job. Your family has demands as well and the cost of living will go up, demanding that you work harder at processing more people through the gate every passing day.
Papers, Please isn’t a pleasant stroll through the park. The work you’re doing is tedious and dull. Every new face a source of income and potential frustration. Inspections taking progressively longer as you become more paranoid of your fallibility. Let one guy through and he’s fine. Let the next woman through, whose paperwork seems legitimate, only to get instantly penalized as her documentation was expired. Then I begin checking documentation to make sure it isn’t expired only to get penalized for letting a criminal through. Curses! Then you deny the next person because something seems missing with his documentatio–oops, nope, he was completely fine. I just denied a man from seeing his wife. Now I have to be extra-careful with the next guy, which takes me over an hour of in-game time just to realize that his paperwork completely checks out. Damnit it all! I need to move faster. The Next person has concealed explosives but I forget to check his weight so he gets through and blows up the guards. The day is abruptly over. My income cut short, my family starves. I curse my inadequacy.
Papers Please is a constant balance of fact-checking, observation and being as quick as possible with some of the most intentionally-clunky tools a border guard could possess. Each tool taking their own portion of precious time to make sure the documentation is or isn’t correct. Even if you know that person’s paperwork is wrong, you have to verify it with the in-game data checker, interrogate the person to be sure you’re correct and then and only then, can you call for the guards. All the while, the clock ticks on insidiously. Waiting to instantly call you out on that inevitable mistake you’ll make.
There are two main game modes, story and endless. Story is a 31 day campaign with branching story paths based on the decisions you make. Whether it’s support for the rising rebellion against Arstotzka, support of the old government, getting caught doing illegal activities or adverse conditions affecting your family, ultimately remains up to you. The story is excellently paced and down to earth with each decision you make being personable. While some decisions may seem black and white at first, you may find out later that events didn’t play out as you expected. The story more or less gives reason for why you’re there and how your decisions affect what ultimately ends up happening. To you, the government or other factions at work. While many that try to cross the border are procedural generated, in the story mode there are some that aren’t. These crafted characters can be depressing, heart wrenching or sometimes amusing. This isn’t a simulation of a border guard’s job but it’s the closest game to being one while remaining entertaining for many.
Endless gives you three ways to play with four levels of difficulty. There’s a timed mode where you process as many travelers in 10 minutes as possible. Perfection which has you going as long as you can until you make a mistake. Finally, there’s Endurance which has you playing until the score balances out from your mistakes. These simply give you a way to enjoy the game after the story and are a nice, simple addition.
Unsurprisingly basic settings, but usable for a 2D game. You have fullscreen, windowed mode and software rendering in case your hardware isn’t good enough. There’s a nudity on/off switch as well as an “Easy Mode” which gives you 20 credits every day. Separate volume sliders exist as well. However, there’s only one very catchy song that’s played in the main menu. The graphic style is, what I would consider, an oppressive & depressing pixelart. It looks great despite it not being a very colorful title.
Papers Please is one of my favorite games of 2013. It keeps the dry experience of a border guard but still has depressing stories to tell. The pixelart and dreary atmosphere combine with the constant & insidious pressure to make for a very compelling experience. It’s a game that I shouldn’t find enjoyable but yet I do. Its an odd game that says something not only through words but through the game’s mechanics as well.
Thanks for reading!