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Papers, Please

By Bobfish15-08-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
MrJenssen (editor)
Papers, Please

The Defence

Adventure, Indie
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 1.5 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD equivalent
2 GB
100 MB

The Case


For the glory of Arstotzka, I present you with this sincere entreaty to cause no trouble. Just sit for a moment, peruse this manuscript and familiarise yourself with what it means to be a true citizen of Arstozka, the greatest country in the world. It is our duty, our honour, to man this station and ensure only the worthy are allowed past our borders. Welcome to Papers, Please.

The Trial


Are you looking for another mindless action game, with a plot that considers using the word 'destiny' as a suitable substitute for depth? A game with the best ‘graffix’ and a poly budget that would cripple a first world country? If that's what you want, then this is not for you.

Some rules must be broken.

Some rules must be broken.

Papers, Please is a grim, ugly game. Ugly in tone, ugly in appearance, ugly in graphical fidelity. So ugly, in fact, that it becomes a work of perverse beauty. Everything, absolutely everything - from the drab, block colour (but mostly grey) 8bit graphics, to the distorted 'voices' when everyone speaks and all the way down to its very gameplay is beautifully ugly. There is no other way to describe it. As with many an Indie game, far from being a hindrance, the lack of resources that denied access to a high end engine has enabled the game to shine in other ways. Encouraging, nay, demanding greater effort from the developer to craft something consistent. And consistent it indeed is. One might even go so far as to argue it is too consistent.

The gameplay is deceptively simple. You are behind the desk at an immigration booth. Your job is simple - check everyone to see if they have the correct papers. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is. But it's also incredibly difficult. Much like a sales job, you are paid per processed applicant. But unlike a sales job, if you process someone the wrong way, you lose money. If you let someone through who doesn't belong, or turn away someone who does, your wages will be docked. In ever increasing amounts. So you will rapidly find yourself anxiously scrutinising everything as quickly as possible, and eventually issuing a stamp without any certainty if you made the right choice.

You are part of the Rebel Alliance, and a traitor!

You are part of the Rebel Alliance, and a traitor!

Make too many wrong choices and you can no longer afford to support your family, leaving you in the heart-wrenching position of having to decide whether your family should eat tonight, or stay warm. Or, if you will forgo both, running the risk of one of them becoming ill. This was especially poignant towards the end during one of my playthroughs when I was informed my son's birthday was coming up. He wanted an expensive crayon set, which I, as a good father, vowed he would have, no matter the cost.

The cost, ultimately, being that I opted to help a group of subversives enter the country and, in the end, actually killing a man for them. Considering how cruel the Arstozkan government is, it was a depressingly easy choice. After all, when an official from the military came to ask me for any information regarding Ezic, the dissidents, and I acquiesced to their request to show them the documents I had been slipped by an Ezic operative...they threw me in jail. So, screw those guys!

Wait...this is the TRANQ rifle?!

Wait...this is the TRANQ rifle?!

Papers, Please is an absolutely superb game. It is a visual masterpiece, in its own way, wholeheartedly embracing the 8-bit style to make something grim and striking. There is little music and sound to talk about, though both are superb as well. Everything, every tiny little thing, was crafted for the sole purpose of impressing, upon the player, precisely how corrupt and oppressive the government of Arstozka really is.

The Verdict


Clearly taking influences from Orwell’s 1984, as well as real world influences such as the Communist block and the Berlin wall. Papers, Please is a difficult game to play, whilst being utterly irresistible. From the very first moment, I was addicted, unable to stop myself going back to it time and again. With twenty(!) endings and an endless mode, the replay value is off the charts.

Case Review

  • Audio: Some people understand silence can be even more powerful.
  • Complexity: Such a simple premise. Such a complicated system.
  • Pick up and Play: With a day lasting only a few minutes and a full game lasting one in-game month, it's incredibly easy to squeeze in a quick game.
  • Replayability: Just as the extra Endless mode implies, it is truly endless.
  • Visuals: It has a great art style, but some people just need their ridiculous levels of bloom.
  • Tone: As compelling as it is, sometimes it can be a little too grim.


Score: 5/5
For the glory of Arstozka!


Welcome to the glorious Democratic People's Republic of Arstotzka, where unemployment does not exist. The government finds the jobs for everybody quickly using a lottery with no objections from the totally non-imprisoned population. In Papers, Please you play as Arstotzkan border inspector checking if people entering the country and their documents are in accordance with the ever-changing regulations. Different people come to your border checkpoint, and your job is to check their papers to see if they should be allowed to come into the country, rejected or detained by the police.

With such gameplay and very pixelated 2D graphics, it might seem like a boring game at first glance. However, the pacing in story mode is anything but. Most of the cases are just random people, who might have all the right documents or lack something necessary. Distinguishing them based on all the regulations becomes a challenging puzzle as the game progresses. Each day is limited in time however, and you get paid for each correct decision and fined for the incorrect ones. The main puzzle aspect alone makes the game decent, and is the only attraction of the endless mode, but is not enough to make the game great. The story mode contains a lot of details that make the game exceptional. In the story mode, you see a bit more than work – there is a family you need to support and it is important to earn enough money for that. At first, it serves only as motivation to work faster, but later it affects your decisions too. Those decisions, mostly made during extraordinary cases, change a lot in the flow of the game. There are people with agendas, who can assist you in return for your help. Others may have been unlucky with bureaucrats, but you have the power to help them at a cost to yourself. Finally, there’s is a good old corruption. All these elements help spice up the game and give it a story. The main campaign lasts 31 days, and your decisions not only shape its ending but may also cut it short sooner, in unexpected ways.

Overall, Papers, Please is a game you expect from Lucas Pope, about the effects of bureaucrats on life and their ability to do both good and evil just by working with documents. With its simple graphics, catchy music and decision-based storyline, this game manages to be very interesting. It is definitely a game worth playing.


Score: 4.5/5


I have said, time and time again – and I like to repeat myself – that people will do all sorts of horrible menial jobs, if only the jobs in question are put into a game. That explains why some German made Street Sweeper Simulator exist. Yes, it's a game. Papers, Please...sort of falls into that category, but sort of doesn't. See, it's a very art-like, ambitious game. It shows – through the use of hyperbole at times – the hard work of a low level functionary in a semi autocratic regime. It humanizes the bureaucrat, because, well, look at the character in the game! His pay sucks, the rules are getting heaped on him on a daily basis AND he has to live with his mother-in-law and uncle, both of which are dead-beats.

Life is hard, deadlines are even harder and Artzoka is a country that has the highest influx of people who can't get their documents right. It's a game that's especially hard for me since I'm so disorganized and tend to forget details – such as sex, picture or something like that. You get citations for both accidentally letting someone who didn't have the right documents in – and for those with the correct docs that you turned away. However, this somewhat breaks away from how governmental positions work in real life – your pay is set and there's no race against time to fulfil quotas.

So, if you subtract all the narrative elements, it's a race against time. A picture-searching game. The fact that both of your upgrades only let you access some tools faster says something about the level of difficulty in the game –its total unwillingness to deal with casuals. Glory to Artichokes indeed!


Score: 4.5/5


Comments (5)
You must be to post a comment.
Posts: 3290

Where is your entry permit?

Posts: 596

I good passport, you take, it good yes? GLORY TO ARSTOZKA!

Posts: 3290

@Monk3y: I cannot recommend it enough. It is a shining example of why we love the Indie scene so much.

@Kyle: For the glory of Arstozka!

Posts: 6

This is rather high on the list of games I need to get and play before the end of this year...sooner rather than later methinks.

Posts: 596

Let me just toss my unofficial 5/5 hammers in here. Purely an epic game from start to finish, I hope this guy gets financial success on this game and then hopefully makes more of this kind of quality and originality!

It still is mind-blowing how he managed to make something so simple, yet so hard and complicated! Game design at its best!!!