Developer: Lucas Pope Platform(s): PC, OSX UK Price: £6.99
‘Glory to Arstotzka’: It’s the most frequent of Papers, Please’s many Soviet-styled catchphrases and a succinct breakdown of what this game is all about. Forget about individuality or ambitions to change the world by oneself, here it’s the state that has the power and it’s the state that matters. Any other viewpoint is meaningless, dangerous and counterproductive.
Within an industry as obsessed with limiting such an enormous percentage of its creative output to the provision of excitement and face value entertainment, Papers, Please stands out like Stalin at a free speech rally. More concerned with depicting oppression and monotony, here’s a game not simply aiming to be tagged as ‘fun’ - that most arbitrary of nouns. It’s claustrophobic and bleak in its social commentary, and it forces us to question our very notion of what a videogame is and what it could possibly be.
And yet, despite the dark tones, Papers, Please manages to be a breath of fresh air amidst a seemingly unyielding maelstrom of action movie copycats and clichéd fantasy worlds. If you were asking for something different, something different you’ve got.
Your job is to man a border checkpoint on behalf of the Arstotzka Ministry of Admission, a role assigned to you following your name being pulled in a random lottery. No secret is made of the fact that you’re a nobody; a cog in a bigger machine and one that can be easily replaced at a moment’s notice. It’s 1982, you’re a citizen of a young Soviet state and illusions of grandeur have no place here.
Each day you accept or deny foreigners and citizens attempting to enter the country based on whether or not their personal documentation – passport, work permit, identity card etc – matches the criteria defined by your superiors. If things look good, you stamp their passport green and let them through. If things look bad, you stamp it red and turn them away.
At its core it’s a complex game of spot the difference, although things are not as simple as the top line description might suggest. In part that’s because the rules governing this spot the difference change so frequently, but in larger part it’s thanks to the way developer Lucas Pope manages to mix an uncompromising and surprisingly involving narrative into your day-to-day document checking routine. The impact of certain decisions can potentially play out in a fashion that leads to personal devastation, making seemingly straightforward entrant processing a life riddled with uncertainty and tension.
Following years of isolation from the international community, the border over which you’re gate keeper is a place of suspicion, corruption and sheer desperation. Terrorists, human traffickers, corrupt border guards, the poverty stricken and more do their best to influence you through your wallet or your heart. How you deal with these special cases is entirely down to you, just be sure to stay mindful of the potential consequences and be sure you can handle them.