Papers, Please puts you into the shoes of an immigration officer. An unusual premise, sure, but this new indie title from Lucas Pope shows that thrilling gaming experiences can be found in the most unexpected places…
Imagine working in a stifling booth every day. A border control booth in a communist Eastern Bloc country. The rigid claustrophobia should be enough to completely alienate you – the decisions, the emotional drain, the morality. Something that should disengage you; by the tools and choices at your disposal, doesn’t. Papers, Please cuts through the checkpoint of video game convention into a light of subtle simplicity.
You’re an immigration inspector – a detective. Unlike so many of our generic protagonists, your decisions resonate from an interrogative interface. In the position of this detective you must ‘Accept’ or ‘Decline’ individuals who wish to enter your state. This sounds simple enough, right? I can assure you Papers, Please does well to show you it’s not. You must scrutinise the applicants papers to make this decision. Dialogue helps – It can be used for comparison purposes, using technology which spots mistakes or inconsistency’s in the applicants documents, for example. The narrative quickly intervenes when people begin to tell you their stories. Morality comes seeping slowly in; declining has significant consequence and so doe’s accepting. How? If you’re wrong in each case, your family lose out at home, starving, getting cold. Yes, you have a family to support also – do you take a bribe?
The context of which we exist in the game makes the choices we have to make more impactful. Desperation is significant, and persistent entirely throughout. A woman from a neighbouring country can’t wait to see her son, but your ever noticing eyes see a flaw in her papers. You’re offered a bribe to let her through. What’s your choice? Be mindful your wife is sick. These choices can come back to haunt you.
Papers, Please strength doesn’t just lie in its narrative experience. The gameplay experiences are equally captivating. It does well to give you new methods of inspection, and the resilient atmosphere of State Control are expressed in greys and depression. Atmospherically, it is monotone, but superb. There are some concessions to be made about replay value, however. Going back over days to perfect them only results in sameness, under the facade of different NPC portraits. There is also the fact the difficulty can be very unfair. Perfection is required a lot in the start, so it ruins the chance of acceptance even if the documents are flawed.
Papers, Please epitomizes the idea that ‘less is more.’ You are a worker. You inspect. You check and check until coming to a conclusion. There is no elaborate, intimidating interface to complete a task. There are two stamps – one red, one grey – accept or decline. It’s not a complex choice on the face value. The choices, though, reveal if your humanity still remains intact. The ever-increasing pressure of an aggressive government breathing down your neck makes your choices ever more pressed. Powerful.
– Luke Kennedy. Interrogate him on Twitter @misterborgia
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