In Lukas Pope’s Cold War-era game Papers, Please, the Ministry of Admission of the fictional communist country Arstotzka has recently opened its borders, and you have been hired as an immigration inspector. Your task is to control the flow of people coming in to Arstotzka, approving and denying their entry by checking their documents for discrepancies. Each passing day, the number of discrepancies to look out for increase, which can become a challenge as you also manage your family’s daily finances.
As an immigration inspector, your job mostly entails carefully inspecting several documents at once, looking for consistency in small details such as ID numbers, names, issuing cities, and their ilk. Incorrectly spotting discrepancies and errors can get you a citation, which depending on the number of times you’ve committed them, can merit you either a warning or an actual pay cut.
Carefully inspecting the game’s graphics reveals a lot of thought had been put into its design. I felt a sense of oppression just from seeing where I work: the inspector’s workspace is just cramped enough, and small niceties for facilitating inspection such as keyboard shortcuts are provided only later in the game as “upgrades.” Worst of all is the player has to pay for them (in-game, not in real life).
The nicest touches in the game come from the various characters seeking to enter Arstotzka. These characters bring life to the game, where you start to realize there is more to being a document inspector after all. There are moments of humor, violence, and politics. Depending on your choices, you might get intimidated, or called for greater action.
Papers, Please also features an excellent soundtrack, with the main game theme’s booming, imposing sound laying out much of the game’s atmosphere. (Pro tip: don’t let your PHB of a manager know you hear the game’s theme song when he calls you every time.)
Inspecting travel documents day by day under a totalitarian government might not be your thing, but Papers, Please‘s excellent storytelling and keen design will keep you playing, and thinking about your actions both in the booth and in real life.