Review: Papers, Please (PC/Mac)

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Ever wanted to be the person staring at the poor sod who’s being dragged away by immigration officers behind the safety of your checkpoint counter? Well!

Papers, Please sits you, the state’s newly chosen immigration officer (lucky you), at the checkpoint between war-torn Arstotzka and Kolechia as you see through the day’s worth of immigrants who want to pass into the country. But this isn’t your regular stamping of passports and sending people on their way. This is post-war 1980s. Grudges are borne. The people hate you. There will be funny business.

Since its inception, the game was already surprisingly deep at its alpha and beta releases with its dystopian Eastern European USSR overtones. The game has gone through a lot since then with indie developer Lucas Pope at the helm, popping up as a full-fledged indie game through Steam Greenlight.

The game lays itself out with the endless queue of immigrants and the view of the checkpoint, your view of the counter and the actual counter you drag documents onto for a closer look. You are handed a set of instructions from the Ministry of Admissions at the start of each day, such as who you’re allowed to pass through under a set of conditions, the basic rule being no one ever enters without a passport, because you need something on which to stamp on.

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When immigrants hand you their papers, it is your job to ensure every single detail tallies with who they are and whether their documents are current, before you lay your fat APPROVED or DENIED stamp over their visa. Mistakes can be made very easily, since there’s plenty of information to scan through, such as expiration dates, document stamps and weight and height correlations.

Let some immigrant scum by with a fake name slip through the crack and you’ll receive a citation (the procurement of which I am now traumatised by) which can eventually lead to a pay cut. Each immigrant you don’t make a mistake over before 6pm each game day earns you your keep and you spend it on food and heat for your family, or save it and starve on a cold night to try for a bigger living quarters.

As a fan of dystopian fiction, I loved being able to choose the fate of certain immigrants. Players will face choices such as whether to help a poor mother with fraudulent documents who hasn’t seen her son or get a wanted criminal who “didn’t do it” through the checkpoint. Take in all the bribes and pocket their property or stick true to your job as a cold, heartless face of the Arstotzkan government to earn the money your family needs to get by for the day.

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Over time, your job as a simple immigration officer will expand into the authority to shoot at intruders and the confiscating of passports. There will be more in-depth discrepancies to verify through fingerprinting and body-scanning (toggled with or without the nudity). Other complications include forged documents and appearance mismatches. Scripted events, such as a routine terrorist attack or your willingness to assist a resistance group to overthrow the government test your morals as just another guy in the system.

It may seem that having to look through a bunch of papers to make sure they are good sounds like a hum-drum game, but Papers, Please has managed to put in quite a bit of effort into making it feel human. With no soundtrack or voice work (conversations dealt simply through speech bubbles), the game sets players in the mood for dystopia very well.

From it’s start as a simple Flash demo, “Papers, Please” has grown to be an immersive dead-end job simulation where only the decisions you make, morally-correct or protocol-abiding, can change your story. The game still has its beta hosted if you want a taste of it first.

PAPERS, PLEASE (PC/Mac)

  • Unique gameplay in a dystopian setting
  • Something that would sound like a menial task is actually spiced up through variations in objectives
  • Several endings to achieve with endless mode for replay value.


  • Size of document inspection play area can get cramped with too many documents to go through, though is part of the challenge.


THE VERDICT: BUY IT

A copy of the game was purchased for this review. Papers, Please is an indie game developed by Lucas Pope, available on the Humble Store or on Steam. Get it here.

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