Version Reviewed: 1.0.7
Device Reviewed On: iPad Mini Retina
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As unlikely as it might sound, I had a job once that was vaguely like playing Papers, Please. It wasn’t on the border control of a corrupt state, but it did involve conducting background checks on people and checking that their papers as well as their stories added up. I stuck around as there was a strange satisfaction in looking out for discrepancies, and I also happened to be quite good at it. Papers, Please succeeds partially because of that similar sense of satisfaction, but also because of a storyline that draws you in bit by bit.
Not that it should, technically. The idea of a game all about working on border control, checking over people’s papers before either admitting them to the country or rejecting them, really isn’t that fascinating on the surface. Two things save Papers, Please from being monotonous, however. The first is how, on a simple level, it gradually introduces new elements to what’s expected of you.
Starting out, you simply have to check that the applicant’s passport looks correct, isn’t expired, and that their photo looks like them. Soon new rules are added, such as foreigners needing work permits or entry visas. Diplomats start wanting to come in too, requiring a different set of rules to follow. Sometimes names don’t match up and you have to interrogate the applicant to see if they’re lying or just confused. It’s simplistically done, but in a way that gives you a sense of more power than you’d expect. Soon enough you’ll be conducting body scans to ascertain gender and checking fingerprints for other aliases.
That’s also where the corruption side of Papers, Please’s storyline shines through. Mysterious travellers appear, offering you money in exchange for assistance. Potentially divided families want admittance and you can choose to risk a penalty to keep them together or not. The daily paper suggests there’s more going on than initial appearances suggest, plus there are occasional terrorist attacks on the border that will disrupt your work. It’s these little moral quandaries that start building up in your mind, all leading to a fascinating story that’s really pretty bleak.
Papers, Please really shouldn’t work as well as it does, given it’s mostly a lot of busy work, but it’s gripping stuff. A plentiful supply of different endings, as well as an Endless Mode, means it’s great value for money, too. Its adaptation to the iPad is flawless as well, with touch screen controls feeling more appropriate than mouse taps. There’s nothing else out there quite like Papers, Please, and it really is a wonderful (and dark) breath of fresh air.