Personal Rating: "Worth playing"
Traditional Rating: 8.5/10
There are a number of themes at play in the gripping and bleak Papers, Please. It's stark and almost clinical in its execution which fits perfectly with its dystopian setting where you assume the role of an immigration inspector controlling the flow of people entering the recently opened borders of the Communistic State of Arstotzka. Arstotzka is as far flung from a Utopian society as you can possibly get as your paltry daily wages are ♥♥♥♥♥ repeatedly by an ever increasing rent, the need to feed the mouths of your family and the possibility of them getting ill and requiring the need for medicine and expensive medical care.
Papers, Please is also very Kafkaesque which is only further amplified by its almost colorless graphics and brutal take on paper bureaucracy. With Arstotka ruled by an oppressive government, every day is a constant fight for survival where your eyes, ears and mind will need to be at their most finely tuned best. The sense of impending doom that perpetuates each short play-through often looms large and from all corners. Keeping your family safe and well fed obviously feeds into this but Arstotzka is, as you would have guessed, not a happy place to live. You will often be faced with smugglers, spies and even terrorists arriving at your border gate, each determined to spread their own form of misery or joy (depending on how you view the world) should you let them through border control. These occurrences can often have devastating effects on you and your families well being.
Papers, Please is also about what is means to be human in a bureaucratic society that values work, duty and loyalty to the State above the wants, needs and concerns of its citizens. You could also argue that it's about freedom (or the loss there of) and the hollow reality of what that actually means or that it's about the demise of human compassion and how human understanding and those deep connections we all have to our fellow human man are strangled to death through totalitarian bureaucracy. There are so many thematic elements on display here that it's quite outstanding. You will often be faced with situations where your very humanity will be tested. Like life - much of this decision making that you are presented with resides comfortably in the grey and will often appear inconsequential just like the proverbial butterfly who flaps its wings in the west only to raise a tsunami in the east. Since every coin has two sides, things are never quite as simple as being black or white, good or bad. One deed could easily end up further paving the way towards hell (so often laid brick by brick with the best of human intentions) as much as another could end up being the catalyst that brings about a positive revolutionary change. Your families needs will also play heavily into this this decision making where some days, just to make up your quota so that you will have enough monies to purchase medicine for your deathly sick wife or child, you will end up condemning other citizens to their deaths.
Papers, Please games are short but exciting with the possible outcome of twenty different endings. I managed on my first play through to get arrested because I had run into the red with regards to my rent. With my family sent away I was left to languish in a jail cell. Starting out simply your duty is to either approve or deny a persons entry into the country by stamping their passports. Slowly - layer upon layer is added to the game. One day you will happily accept foreigners into the country with a valid passport the next - not so - as they will need to supply you with an entrance visa or work permit. Dates on permits will need to be thoroughly checked and validated and ID numbers, date of births and genders correctly matched-up with the authorities being notified (or not) should there be any discrepancies. Your days are also heavily influenced by what is occurring in the newspapers for the day so should an escaped convict arrive at your gate it is up to you to either detain them or let them through. Things get more and more complex as your desk literally starts to litter with pieces of useful information and papers about the possible citizens approaching your gate. Get it all wrong and deny a person entry or let the wrong person through and you could face the possibility of going home with a smaller wage packet should the authorities detect your transgression. It's really up to you to decide whether or not you will benefit from this which is made all the more trickier by the fact that you are on a constant timer to process the days queues. The more successful applications for entry you process the more pay you will earn.
I would have never imagined a game centered around border control and the shuffling of papers could be this thrilling but as it turns out Papers, Please is just that. It's a simple yet effective little Indie title that is well worth looking into. I am not sure of its longevity though as I imagine sooner rather than later all the different kinds of scenarios will have played themselves out and will begin to repeat which could end up diminishing the games power. But honestly I am just nitpicking here now. Papers, Please was never meant to be a 40hr epic and I am quite thankful for that. Perhaps - later down the line the game could introduce an entire new character set with scenarios DLC, which would help keep things fresh. However, I am jumping ahead of myself here. I should still have a good few games ahead of me. Until then - Glory to Arstotzka!