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RELEASE DATE (NA): August 8, 2013 GENRE: Border...Simulator?
// review by SoyBomb

Glory to Arstotzka!

I have absolutely no idea why this game is so addictive, but it IS.

Set in late 1982, you serve as a border control officer in Arstotzka (which is not a real place but very well could have been at the time), a country entangled in the midst of many political and miltary animosities and must, therefore, keep an extremely close eye on who they let into their country. Your sole day-to-day duty is to thoroughly examine the paperwork of each candidate for entry, ensuring there are no blips, falsehoods, or contradictions. The livelihood of you and your family depends on how many cases you take per day — essentially, it's piecework — and you had better be accurate, lest you wish to incur financial penalties for improper vetting of citizens and essentially force your family to starve or freeze that day.

And, of course, from time to time, there's a terrorist attack at the border, and you get to go home early.

Papers, Please literally is a document examination simulator, and little else. You'll be asked to minutely scrutinize every single applicant for entry, looking at their passport to ensure their information is accurate, as well as any other forms they may have or need, including work entry forms, diplomacy notices, and personal ID cards. And you have to be EXTREMELY careful in pinpointing flaws and discrepancies. Maybe their gender is incorrect; perhaps the stamp on their work visa is fraudulent; they may be using an alias; they may simply lie to you during your initial verbal interrogation, at which point you are asked to point out the discrepancy and interrogate them further. If you are displeased with their response, you must drop the stamp of disapproval (literally) on their passport and send them away. You will also need to cross-reference any faults you discover with your ever-expanding book of rules and regulations concerning the criteria for crossing the border. As the game progresses, new forms of interrogation are added, including fingerprinting and a full body scan. The body scan is perhaps the most contentious part of the game, what with your ability to see naked bodies, but by disabling the nudity, the worst you'll see is a text box where a man refers to your judgment as BS.

This all has to be examined not only carefully but quickly, as your livelihood depends on efficiency. The sense of urgency in getting people through (or not through) is duly noted. When I pass through an actual border, I'm usually filled with a sense of anxiety, so it came as little surprise that this, too, fills the heart with adrenaline, among other mystery fluids.

At the end of the day, you are paid for your efforts, though it's hardly enough to keep your and your family warm and well-fed. You have to decide whether it's necessary to buy food for that day, heat your home, or try and conserve your money. Plus, your son tends to be sick ALL the time, so some additional medicinal costs are chalked up as well. Considering how important your job is, you'd THINK they'd pay you decently, but I guess perhaps the leader needed another few golden scepters that year.

Who knew border security could be so complicated?

The game also presents some moral dilemmas that may or may not affect how you do your job. For example, at one point, a man and his wife were both trying to get through the border; the husband's paperwork was all in order, but the wife's passport had expired. The question remains: do you break up a couple, or let her through and risk penalty? There is also a strange cult eminating from outside Arstotzka called EZIC that wishes to pass cryptic notes to one another through you and advise how the government shall soon fall. I suppose it is, ultimately, your own morality that will determine whether you help these people in need or whether your job and loyalty to Arstotzka come first. Admittedly, I feel a bit naughty, as stamping "DENIED" on someone's passport who clearly should not be allowed in is eerily satisfying.

There's also the case of receiving bribes and cash bonuses from certain individuals; I felt very rich when I actually had the money, as though I could actually afford real meat in my dinners! Things took a sharp turn whenfellow patrol officers noticed my sudden wealth and ratted me out. Finks! The government took my money and left me poor again! That's it, I'm moving to Denmark!

My one major gripe is that the layout of the game is too cluttered. One third of the screen space is used to look at the border itself, which isn't necessary. More space should have been allotted to your desk, where you have to plant down all the paperwork, your rule book, and any other items you pick up. (Do I really need some engineer's business cards spread around?) In a game where time is a factor, I shouldn't be rustling through my stack, trying to find a piece of identification — it should all be in front of me.

But here's the thing: I still have absolutely no clue why I enjoyed playing Papers, Please. It's a drab-looking game, though that's a direct reflection of the state of Arstotzka at the time. You're sitting and thumbing through passports and other wrinkly bits of paperwork, and that's all you're doing, day after in-game day. There's barely any music, save for the transitions between days when dark trumpets underline your need to budget the day's funds; most of the audio is limited to the reticent whispers of an impatient lineup for the border, as well as the sweet sound you hear when you click your checkpoint booth and hear the strange gibberish language you speak instead of using actual language.

The experience is downright dismal. Every potential candidate for entry looks tired, weakened, and borderline starved. You almost feel for these people, but your job is to wean out the unwanted, and that's what the game demands. Yet once you start playing the role, it's hard to stop.

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