Indie Quickie: Papers, Please

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? I’m fairly certain this is the only Dystopian Document Thriller you’re going to find on any device that plays video games.

Who made it and where can you get it? Before playing the game, you will need to pay the admittance fee of $9.99 to developer Lucas Pope of 3909. Available retail checkpoints include Steam, GOG.com, and the Humble Store. Find those links and more info at papersplea.se.

How much did we play? I cleared 10 days of story mode within approximately two hours. (A day is the same thing as a level.) An endless mode is available from the main menu, but only unlocks once the story mode has been completed.

Any technical concerns or hardware requirements you should know about? I didn’t notice any hitches in performance, and the low specs should run fine on any halfway decent PC made within the past decade. The only minor concern is the initial lack of clear explanation about the rules and how to use the interface. You may need to suck through the first two or three days on the job before you get the hang of things.

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Why should you play it?

    • Access Denied: As a newly assigned immigration inspector for the fictional communist nation of Arstotzka, it is your sworn duty to check the papers of people attempting to cross the border checkpoint. When the next person in line steps up to your booth, he or she needs to present their passport and typically some other form of documentation, such as a work permit or ID card. With the eye of a sleuthing investigator, you must determine if all their papers are in order, down to the very last detail. If everything checks out, you can stamp their passport for approval and let them through without incident. However, if something looks fishy — their documents show two different names, a past-due expiration date, or signs of forgery — you will need to identify the pieces of conflicting information and use them to interrogate the traveler. From there you may need to perform full-body scans to uncover weapons or smuggled goods, or request fingerprints to confirm identity and uncover other known aliases. After doing the proper investigations, some stories will check out. Other times they won’t, and in these scenarios you must deny admittance or, in worst case scenarios, detain a suspicious person. You’ve played adventure games and solved puzzles before, but not quite like this.

    • Thorough Urgency: The game’s story takes place over a series of days, and during each day you are given a limited number of working hours to check those immigration papers. At the end of the day, you earn a commissioned salary based on how many people you were able to process within the time limit, minus monies for family needs (rent, food, heating bill, etc) and penalty deductions incurred from any citations of improper admittance/denial you may have received. New guidelines are also introduced each day as indicated by the front page headlines of the morning newspaper. For example, if the previous day a suicide bomber attacked the border checkpoint, on the next day foreigners from the terrorist’s country will be subject to harsher searches or outright denial of passage. Or if there is concern about spies or smugglers sneaking across, documents will need to show a proper, un-forged seal. Checking passports and IDs over and over again probably sounds like a mundane task to build a video game around, but the constantly changing rules combined with the need to check papers as quickly as possible creates a sense of nail-biting tension and instinctual problem solving unique to this game. The pacing is absolutely dead on: You need to take your time to confirm every piece of information, but thoroughness must be balanced with urgency. There’s no worse feeling than thinking you checked everything only to have your stomach drop at the printing sound of a citation landing on your desk because a passport you approved was expired. Dammit! How’d I miss that?

Parting Thoughts: Papers, Please’s unique brand of adventure game problem solving is complimented by a surprisingly immersive storyline that up to now has captured my full attention with its border-crossing intrigue, well written characters, occasional references to real-world current events, and even some funny gags that soften the somewhat gloomy mood of terrorism and communist oppression. During one of the levels there’s a headline that a track star is on the run, suspected of murdering his girlfriend (hey, that sounds like Oscar Pistorius!), so you need to be on watch if he attempts to cross the border. In another scenario, this time on the humorous side, a female foreigner handed over a passport with her sex listed as male. When I questioned her, she said she was a he, and in order to verify I had to use the body scanner to check the genitalia (yes, there is an option for 2D pixel nudity). Sure enough, she really was a he!

At this point I’m still not sure what the end-game objective is or how certain story events are altered based on actions taken and circumstances encountered throughout the game (will my family members eventually die if my salary can’t cover the cost of food or medicine? And if so, what does that mean?), I just know that I’m eager to play more and can’t wait to see where the story of Arstotzka’s finest immigration inspector goes next.

I know I haven’t finished it yet, but this is already one of the most fascinating and truly original games I’ve played in a while. Glory to Arstotzka!

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!