Is it weird to say that I’ve been more eager to return to Papers, Please than any other game I’ve played in the past few months? It’s 1982 in a fictional country beyond the Iron Curtain and you’ve just received the incredible opportunity to be plucked from your village to serve an immigration inspector. With the dollars you’ll earn, you’ll be able to help your family survive the brutal winter. With some primitive tools and a keen sense of observation, it’s your job to make sure that the right people make it back into your country and the bad ones stay out.
From the interface to the charming graphics, Papers, Please feels like it’d be right at home on a Nintendo DS alongside a game like Professor Layton, with the exception of this game’s heavier themes. Everything in its presentation screams showmanship and the entire package is a very clever affair.
As each person rolls up in line, you’ll utilize your desktop, a manual of neighboring countries for reference to determine whether they deserve entrance. Maybe their visa is expired, maybe a man will show up with an ‘F’ printed next to their gender, maybe the person doesn’t look like the photo, it’s ultimately your judgment in who gets to pass. You play the game day to day and you’ll be watched very closely by an unseen supervisor who immediately sends you a citation when you’ve let the wrong person in or kept the right person out. Creator Lucas Pope suggests that the feedback had at one point come at the end of the day, but providing immediate feedback made for a more fun game. As you progress, you’ll determine where your salary goes to support of your family. Is your kid sick? You’ll want to buy that medicine. Make sure you pay for rent or you won’t have a house, either. On the job, you’ll even discover a narrative strung through the people you encounter as suicide bombers break through your lines and some of the people you interrogate need more help than you think
The game replicates the banality of an entry-level position perfectly. Nothing about your “job” is automated, so you’ll need to call in each person, drag their visa and any other accompanying documents over for inspection, and manually find the discrepancies between what’s presented in paper format and the reality standing before you. You’ll also need to be efficient as your paycheck reflects how many people you were able to check before the end of the work day, which reflects everything that happens afterward.
You can play the game in its various forms on Lucas Pope’s website and I would highly recommend you do so.