Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Game Review: Papers, Please

A while back we got contacted by a guy named Lucas Pope, who created a game called Papers, Please. He was interested in having merchandise made for his game.

I told him we were busy at the time, which is true: we get a lot of people asking for merchandise from us, and I often have to turn them down due to our bandwidth.

Lucas was persistent, though. He didn't see any other merchandising companies out there that he felt would work for his game. Luckily, a few of us played the game by that point, so we decided to move forward with the partnership.

I played the game as well, and I just finished it over the weekend. Naturally, it deserves a review. Short version: play it. It's unlike anything you've played before, and that alone makes it something you should experience.


In the communist country of Arstotzka in the early 80's, you get a job at a newly-opened border crossing. You gain this assignment thanks to the labor lottery.

Each day you must process as many people as you can while verifying their paperwork. Failing to follow protocol leads to citations, which may eventually lead to docked pay. You earn money for each correctly processed entrant, which allows you to pay for your family's rent, food, heating, and other needs.

However, the newly opened crossing is at the border of an enemy country. You will meet interesting characters, dangerous intrigue, and desperate people. Can you handle this job?


Paper, Please is like no game I've ever seen. It is truly unique.

The art style is intentionally a little gross, and it works very well for setting the tone. Often times I felt like I wasn't sure quite what I was looking at: Do these finger prints match? Is that person actually 2'5"? Is that a mustache or just his mouth? Is this a man or a woman?

But then, that's all part of the process: you can verify all of these things if you're not sure. And you'd better, because your family is relying on you to not get too many citations.

But then, you also have to process people quickly. Can you do it quickly and accurately? It's certainly tough.

If the game also seems inefficient and tedious at first, that's also intentional: you need to purchase upgrades to your booth into to have access to shortcuts. Otherwise, you have to click on everything with your mouse.

The difficulty scales steadily as well, so those upgrades are necessary: the second you shave off by getting a shortcut is balanced out by a new order to check a new piece of paperwork, which adds seconds to your processing time.

Luckily, you can always replay a day if you feel like you did poorly. You can even go back a few days, creating a different timeline in your saved data. This is very useful, since the game has 20 different endings that depend on what you do.

The story and characters really pulled me in, too. If my mind, I was merely doing my job, trying to survive. I was an honest person who generally did not take bribes. That said, I sometimes felt for a person's plight and accepted a citation to let them through. I almost never detained anyone, unless they were wanted criminals. Except for Jorji Costava, who I good-naturedly simply denied entry to unless his paperwork was actually in order. He was simply too nice to detain.

That said, I was not above working to help bring about a better tomorrow for Arstotzka. I didn't know too much about the EZICs and had no reason to truly trust them, yet it was clear that Arstotzka was in trouble and someone had to do something. So I helped them out when I could. I believe my ending was the best one.

I won't say "I want more games like this," because I think that's the opposite of the point. There's nothing like Papers, Please, and I think that's awesome. I'd love to see more developers pushing the boundaries of what we think of when we think of video games.

Papers, Please would have accomplished that, even without its awesome writing. It's the combination of the gameplay and the writing that elevates the game from being a curious experiment to being a revolutionary game.

Well done, Lucas. I'm proud to be working with you.

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