Gamer on a Budget #8 – Papers, Please
Reviewed by William LJ Galaini
Brilliant. Completely brilliant. I don’t even know how else to start this review. Papers, Please is engaging, emotional, stressful, compelling, and satisfying all at once while giving the player a complete sense of control over decisions and choices despite being under a constant shadow of violence. Each choice you make can lead to either government praise or your family’s gradual starvation. There are suicide bombers, drug smugglers, revolutionaries, terrifying government police, gun battles, corrupt guards, weary prostitutes, refugees, and separated lovers. All of these people interact through you and rely almost solely on your ability to stamp what where and when.
Yes. That is the gameplay, here. You stamp. You either stamp ‘approved’ or ‘denied.’ You stamp for communist oppression. You stamp for justice. You stamp to stop terrorists. You stamp to smuggle drugs. You stamp to avoid prison by missing your rent. You stamp for your wife and children at home. You stamp to heat your home. You stamp to adopt your orphaned niece before she is sold into sexual slavery. You stamp to keep your thread-bare nation afloat while you try not to let your family and other innocent people sink with it.
The gameplay itself is just as stressful and dense as the results of your choices. Nearly each day new rules are instituted and you must abide by them. Does this traveler have a work permit with the proper hammer-shaped stamp? Is that vaccination card still valid? Due to a recent change in policy, all passports for residents in that district are to be confiscated. Will you accept that man’s watch as payment for not arresting him due to his forged documents? You must answer all these questions while the clock is ticking. If you are too slow, not enough valid people pass the gate and your family goes without food for today. If you are too generous, too many invalid passports will be approved and you’ll have your inspector furious, wages docked, and worst of all the attention of the state police.
Odd as it may sound, there is a ‘rogue-like’ factor to this game. Each daily grind of trying to keep your head afloat has the same feeling of ‘how far will I make it’ that games like Faster Than Light and The Binding of Isaac brilliantly convey. Idealism is a luxury here, and hard choices will be made that will cause suffering. Papers, Please is a game about allocating, distributing, and coping with misery… much echoes its oppressive European communist setting perfectly.
Why you would buy it:
You want to play a game where you make genuine choices
You desire completely original gameplay
Failure makes the game taste sweeter when you succeed
Slick and polished style and sound design
Why you would pass on it:
Retro graphics turn you off The idea of sorting through paperwork doesn’t strike you as a game You live in a communist nation and it hits a little close to home
Recommended for: People that remember the 80s.
This Gamer on a Budget review was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in November, 2013, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.