Review: Papers, Please

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Ages 13 and up
Genre: Simulation
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2013
Review Published On: October 11th, 2016
Played on: Martha & Thaddeus

Available from:

Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

Progress is saved after each day. If you need to pause the game, press the ESC key.

Summary of
Major Issues:

This is a very politically charged game, as you're working as a border guard. There will be violence at the border, as well as the unpleasant task of viewing travelers in the nude as you check for smuggled items.


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Something's fishy here...

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Hello, Jorji

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Aftermath of a suicide bombing

Game Overview

When you think of dystopias, you'll probably image large science fiction epics where some street thief manages to survive the bleak, irradiated landscape and go on to topple the evil government that oppresses the people. You're certainly not going to be thinking of the shmuck that found himself roped into a desk job where he spends his days checking over stranger's paperwork. Yet, that's the story of Papers Please, and the fate of a nation is determined by those rubber stamps.

Conscripted into working as the booth operator at the Arstotzka border, it's your job to make sure everyone's paper work is in proper order. The government will pay you for your service, but only just enough to cover basic luxuries like rent, heat and food for your family. Should you make a mistake (or deliberately ignore the rules), you'll receive a warning or two. But after that, you'll be fined increasingly larger amounts, driving you into debt (and jail) very quickly. Make your choices wisely.

Your day to day routine is also vulnerable to the current political situation. Arstotzka has many enemies, and your checkpoint is a prime target for any terrorists that want to make their point. Some of these groups are hostiles from other nations, others are home-grown rebels that seek to overthrow the Arstotzkian government. It's a choice of evils; do you toe the line or try to give people a better life?

I would strongly recommend this one, as the story unfolds based on your actions. Nobody, not the strangers on the street, the guards, your family or even your character, are safe from the events in this game.

Points of Interest

Surprisingly fun
Most people would expect reviewing paperwork to be a tedious and boring task. However, this game makes it less about drudgery and more about quickly spotting fake documents. Since most mistakes only result in a warning, it's actually sort of fun to see if you can catch people trying to sneak into the country.
Extremely atmospheric
Being a communist country recovering from war, Arstotzka isn't the best place to live. Things get worse as its government becomes increasingly paranoid, and you begin to notice the many ways that Big Brother is watching your every move. This presents a depressing and cynical atmosphere, which is only made more omnipresent by the game's militaristic and nationalistic overtones. Even the way everyone speaks in broken English adds some post-war communism flavor to the game.
Two game modes
At first you'll only be able to play the game's story mode. During this mode, you'll have to enforce the rules you're given as well as make various moral decisions that change how things unfold. Fortunately, you can always resume the game from any part of the timeline, allowing you to make different decisions or try to change the outcome of various events.

Once you've unlocked the Endless mode, you can play the game in an attempt to earn a high score. You can control which documents you'll need to check, thereby controlling how difficult your game will be.
Twenty possible endings
The story features many different branches, and as a direct result there are no less than 20 different possible endings to find. Most of these are just variations of a game over, but there are some happier endings. Don't worry about having to track them all down though -- there isn't an achievement for that.
Steam community features
There are a handful of Steam trading cards available for you to earn, but the bigger twist is the way the game handles the achievements. Most of them are tied to specific events that unfold in the story. If you handle them correctly, then you'll be given a special coin by the people involved. Once you get the coin, the achievement unlocks. These coins basically allow you to earn an achievement again with every playthrough.
Harder than it looks
There's a lot of things you'll need to keep track of, and in the story mode, the rules change on a daily basis. This can trip you up if you're not paying close enough attention. Even if it doesn't cost you the game, you'll still be penalized enough that you might have difficulty providing for your family.

Of course, the biggest catch is that the game uses fictional countries and cities, and you'll need to pay attention to this. For example, passports and other materials can claim to be from cities in the wrong country, and you'll get penalized if you miss these details.

Concerns and Issues

Nobody likes dealing with paperwork. Most of the people going through your checkpoint are just your average men and women, and unsurprisingly they have their own affairs to deal with. Many of the people you'll be turning away with improper paperwork simply weren't aware it wasn't properly prepared, and they'll be rather frank about their opinion of you and your employers. Beyond this, just about everybody describes Arstotzka with some colorful language.
From time to time you'll need to use your booth's full body scanner to examine the people coming through. This works similarly to an x-ray machine; it takes two dull green pictures that show what's underneath the person's clothing. More interesting things like smuggled goods or explosive vests show up as black on these pictures, making them easy to spot.

Unfortunately, one of the more typical uses of this machine is to confirm that the subject's paperwork is stating their gender correctly. Every so often, you'll encounter a man that looks like a woman or vice versa, and since their appearance doesn't match the gender on their paperwork, you'll need to see for yourself if the paperwork is actually correct.

If this is more than you want to see, there is an option to disable full nudity. This places appropriate undergarments on the person's silhouette, allowing you to confirm if a person is a man by the absence of a bra instead of having to look between their legs.
References to strip clubs
Early on, you'll be given business cards advertising a "vice club". Some of the women that give you these cards also tell you to ask for a specific girl if you ever visit. This is either a strip club or a brothel, but since you never see the world beyond your customs booth, you'll never see the club yourself. That said, it's obviously there and does play a role in the plot at one point.
Extremely political
A lot of what happens in the game's story seems to have been drawn from recent headlines and real world events. Examples include denying foreigners the right to enter the country, terrorist attacks, human trafficking, drug smuggling and even suicide bombers.
Moral implications
The story mode's main challenge comes from knowing what to do and when to do it. Sure, you could simply follow the rules and robotically approve and reject people based on their paperwork, but is this right? Sometimes you'll be asked to bend the rules for someone, sometimes you'll be offered a bribe, and sometimes you'll be asked to assist terrorists. Your little rubber stamp can save or destroy lives; how are you going to use it?
Dealing with terrorists
There are several factions causing trouble at the checkpoint where you are stationed. Some of these groups are working to usurp the Arstotzkian government, and these rebels are one of the few groups in the game that are actually looking out for your best interests. To get the best endings, you'll need to cooperate with them. This usually only means letting their members through the checkpoint, but sometimes it includes assassinating people using poison or "accidentally" shooting a bystander during an attack.
Violence, blood and bodies
A lot of bad things happen at this border. There will be times where you'll need to call the guards over to have someone arrested, and in some cases this escalates to the guard knocking the offender out by striking their head with the butt of a rifle.

Worse, during terrorist attacks you may need to assist the guards by shooting the attacker(s). You have a choice between tranquilizer darts or live bullets, but people's lives depend on you making your decision and firing quickly.

Regardless of what you do, people will die at your checkpoint. When it happens, their blood and what's left of their bodies remain on the road until the screen fades to black.