At it’s core, Papers, Please, is a simulation of being a border station clerk for a strictly regulated country. Despite what sounds to be a very boring experience, this game offers a narrative which is explained both by what is shown to you and also more subtly by the mechanics of the game. The story structure starts off simple and then slowly builds the procedure up to a much more intricate system of checking while adding more pressure to preform as your costs to live go up.
Most of the game takes place within your booth and is operated with only a few simple mechanics. You move documents to one side of the screen and decide if they pass or fail based on any dependencies you find. None of this is highlighted and so it requires you to pay attention to the mundane details of the visas or any other materials given to you.
Each day ends with a summary of your performance and a basic representation of your family and their health. It also offers a few gamey options such as a keyboard shortcut to enter inspection mode but otherwise all of your resource management is in expenses to keep your family alive and well. Occasionally your day is cut short due to a terrorist attack which often leads to stricter guidelines and even more details to check.
Much like any job you will likely start the game off being slow to find your stride and as a result my first play through went pretty poorly. Within a few days my family suffered from the lack of resources and grew sick, hungry, and cold. Eventually I started over so that I could use the bit I had learned to have a decent chance at playing more of the game.
This experience in of itself told a pretty interesting narrative about a man being mandated to work for a low income job with an extended family that suffered due to poor performance. However, this is not the only story the game tells, and when you get down to it there are many little interesting choices you have to make.
Besides the obvious resource management of food or medicine, you will often find yourself talking to people who have something to say. Most of them are angry due to absurd requirements to pass or whatever, but a few notable examples came up within only a few hours of play.
First, and for me the most interesting, was a man who came through claiming the next person in line was his wife. He asked me to be kind to her and moved through, but when she came up she didn’t have all of her papers in order. At this point I had to ask myself “Do I do my job completely and separate these two from one another, or do I let her through and take the pay cut”. I also asked myself “What if she is a terrorist and they are both lying?”
The other noteworthy scenario was a woman claiming she is going to be sold into slavery if she gets into the country by the man ahead of her. She has all of her papers in order and once again a choice had to be made over letting her through or denying her and taking a pay cut. I ultimately sent her through and found a news article the next day explaining that the very same woman ended up dead in an alley.
These are just a few of the examples of what makes this experience worth the mundane mechanical play. Once you get your stride there are many little things it has to offer under the surface and what’s better is that it is currently part of the Humble Indie Bundle 12, letting you name your own price for it any many other cool games. I urge anyone willing to explore a different kind of game to give this one a shot!