An original premise and a reflective thoughtfulness make Papers, Please a reason to finally dust off your Vita again. The FingerGuns Review;
As a concept, “Papers, Please” sounds like the dullest game in existence. Working at a border checkpoint and meticulously checking people’s paperwork for anomalies sounds like a boring work simulator but Papers, Please, while still being exactly this, is much more beneath the surface. Upon its original release on 2013, Papers, Please became something of an indie sensation and now, 4 years later, PSVita players can see what all the fuss is about.
In Papers, Please you play as an unnamed citizen of the fictional communist country Arstotzka who has won a “labour lottery” and has been allocated a job at Grestin Border Checkpoint by the Ministry of Admission. Your family are moved with you into a Class-8 dwelling and you are expected to feed them, keep them warm and fit and deal with any unexpected events.
When you start your job, you’re presented with a rule book. This sets out the starting conditions for your role as a checkpoint agent. As travellers, immigrants and visitors to Arstotzka arrive at your desk, your job as the player is to painstakingly comb through each piece of documentation and root out any anomalies or errors according to the criteria in the rule book. Date of birth, end dates, issue dates, expiry dates, sex, weight, height, reason for entry to Arstotzka, duration of stay, facial features, vaccination records, issuing cities, the list of data you have to interrogate goes on and on and expands and changes the longer you progress in the game. If everything checks out, you can give them a stamp of approval and off they go into Arstotzka.
Should any of the data points fall short of your stringent checks, you can do a few things to process the person in front of you. You could refuse entry. You can interrogate them – This will sometimes solve your issue but more often than not, it’ll give you the option to do something else. This could be to finger print them and search for them in the Arstotzka database. Sometimes you’ll have to search a person and examine naked (or not naked, if you choose so in the options) photos of the traveller for contraband or weaponry. Regularly, you’ll have to detain and arrest someone trying to enter your glorious country on false papers.
Being human, mistakes will happen and when you do get things wrong you can be punished for doing so. Let someone into Arstotzka who should have been turned away or refuse entry to someone who’s documentation was correct without the proper reasoning and you can be fined. You get 2 free mistakes a day but after that, you start to lose credits via citations.
Losing credits or being unable to get a full day’s wage can have an impact on your family life. With your wage, you need to budget for food, rent, heating, medicine if a member of your family is ill and any other ad hoc expenditures that come up. While your family is represented by nothing more than a green circle on the side of the screen, losing some of its potential impact, choosing what to pay for can be a tad stressful. Not being able to pay for your rent results in imprisonment for you but not paying for heating or food can make your family ill and if your family gets sick, they could die. Keeping on top of your families needs pushes you to work harder and faster during the working day.
Keeping your family alive in Papers, Please is one thing but keeping your morals and preventing yourself from becoming a monster at work under a totalitarian rule is another. As people step up to your immigration desk, you often get a glimpse of their lives. This glimpse can make your decision to approve or reject their entry all the more difficult. There could be a husband who has the correct documentation beg you to let in his wife who is next in line but has a missing entry permit. Do you reject her entry and separate the pair or do you let her in and receive a citation and maybe a fine? At other junctures, a man hands you a picture of his daughter and ask you to confiscate the passport of a man who hurt her. Do you oblige and let the man get his justice? Do you even believe him? Or do you dutifully do your job and avoid the fine? These types of moral decisions come up regularly throughout Papers, Please and they’re designed to make you think and question what is right and wrong in interesting ways.
On top of the near constant moral decisions are the political mind games and comical story lines. Occasionally, agents from an underground agency approach you and ask you to do something outside of your normal job remit that might destabilise the Arstotzka “government”. Performing these actions have their own consequences, both good and bad. Then there are the fun little interactions with some characters who are only there for comic relief. Much of the humour in Papers, Please comes from the absurdity of the oppressive, tyrannical land of Arstotzka, the people in it and the rules they come up with that you have to work around. Some characters really play into this aspect and border on turning into a a “In mother Russia…” joke. Others are just odd, colourful characters. There’s a surprising amount of depth to this game while retaining a light hearted feel.
Technically, the port to the PSVita has obviously been a difficult one and compromises have had to be made in order to fit everything on the screen. To view documents, you have to drag them using the touch screen to a desk which is off screen which, in the PC version, was on the bottom right hand side of the the same screen. This can be a little fiddly at times, especially when dealing with a punter with lots of paperwork. The font is also quite small so if you have sausage fingers like I have, you will often end up pointing out the wrong details on a document when highlighting inconsistencies. While Papers, Please isn’t a visually intensive game it does look very snappy on the Vita’s screen.
While I don’t think there’s enough here to warrant a double dip from previous PC players, if you’ve not played Papers, Please before and own a Vita, I urge you to give this game a go. There have been some changes made to this version to enable it to work with the touch screen functionality and there are some positives (improved window screen layout, portability, accessibility) and negatives (occasional fiddliness, easier to make mistakes, reduced speed of play) to the changes. Of course, the worst/best part of having Papers, Please on the Vita is lying awake in bed at 2AM checking for forged entry permits or having pins and needles in your feet after sitting on the toilet for too long because you need to concentrate to be able to afford some medicine for your sick child. Papers, Please is a truly original concept that has been executed very well with a deceptively deep and engrossing game play cycle and overarching plot threads. There’s a tonne of replayability here too with 20 endings to find should you have the constitution for it. Having waited 4 years to play Papers, Please, I’m happy to finally give it my stamp of approval with this PSVita version. Glory to Arstotzka.
Papers, Please is available now on PSVita (reviewed), iPad and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For our full review policy please go here.go here