Papers, Please: Glory to Arstotzka!

Have you ever wanted to be an immigration officer? Probably not. What about if the health and wellbeing of your family was at stake? Well, that sounds more stressful than fun, I suppose.

Papers, Please is the latest game by Lucas Pope and it takes that stressful feeling and just runs with it. Sending you back in time some thirty years to the early 80s, after ‘winning’ a lottery your name is called for immigration inspection duty for the glorious nation of Arstotzka. It’s like a weird version of being called for jury duty, only you can’t skip out and you actually have to do things.

Your job seems simple, if not without a lot of pressure attached to it. Manage the immigration line and check everybody’s passports to see if they’re expired or there are details that don’t match, like their photo or their name and sometimes even their gender. It’s up to you to allow or refuse entry into the country. Make sure you spot those discrepancies because letting some people in can lead to short-lived terrorists attacks and a whopping fine for your mistake.

You finish your first day of work and all seems to have gone fine. It took a while to read everything and stamp everyone’s passports but you managed to let a few good people in and keep the bad ones out. A progress report comes up on screen as well as your pay docket for the day. But then something else pops up on the side:

Your son is sick and needs medicine. Oh no!

At the end of the day you aren’t going to be earning much money, and what little you have needs to be spent on ensuring the wellbeing of your family members. They’ll randomly get sick, get hungry if you go days without food, and complain of being cold if you can’t afford heat. Suddenly you want to do a bit better at your job. Let’s make sure everyone is okay!

So you prepare for work the next day and that’s when the game hits you again. Every day is different, the requirements for entry change and with them come new documents that need to be checked over and various other tasks you need to accomplish to point out the discrepancies in passports and refuse or grant entry for everyone. There’s only a set time limit each day, and every person dealt with earns you wages. There’s a push to be fast if you want to have any sort of spare income to keep your family protected. But with speed comes mistakes. You might only glance over the names between two documents and not notice the difference between them, or fail to see that the expiry date on an entry ticket has long since passed. Sometimes, as above, letting these people in can lead to terrorist attacks, which end the day right there, but most will incur a penalty that comes out of your daily pay.

It’s all about a careful management between speed and proper observation skills. Papers, Please is a lot of fun when it gets that balance right, but when your first start up the game it isn’t particularly easy. You might breeze through the first day and think that’s all there is to the game, but the second day introduces a whole new system, as does the third, and the fourth, and it can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t manage to get a proper grasp of the mechanics in the allotted time. You can interrogate the person if their papers don’t check out, do fingerprint analysis if their picture doesn’t match, you can even accept bribes if you’re particularly desperate for money. Struggling with these mechanics against a time limit can get a bit difficult, but it’s also where a lot of the fun in the game lies.

Still, this one is worth checking out. Papers Please is currently in beta and free to download if you want to give it a go. See how well you do!

The game was also recently greenlit on Steam so expect a full version in the future.

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