Papers, Please – Sorta Review + Starting Tips
I already did a short write-up on this title back when it was in its beta/demo stage, so if you want more info than what I give here, there might be something there I covered in better detail. But now it is released! So let’s see how it’s turned out.
For those who haven’t read my PSA, or have simply forgotten, Papers, Please is developed by Lucas Pope and is described as a “Dystopian Document Thriller”. You can still find the demo on Pope’s blog, by the way.
The gist of Papers, Please is that you have been fortunate enough to ‘win’ the position of a border control agent (in fact the only border control agent) as the glorious nation of Arstotzka opens its borders again for the first time in quite a while.
Your job is to check the documents of people coming there and make the call on who is allowed to enter or not. The oppressive government are nice enough to double-check everything you do, and ‘award’ you citations if you fuck it up!
The first couple of days are fairly simple in that nice tutorial style, but things get more complicated real fast as you need to check fingerprints, use the body scanner, make sure the document seals are present and valid and much more. It kinda threatens to overwhelm, but it does ease you into the process and with some practice you’ll be processing people at a profitable rate.
See, times are hard in Arstotzka, and only you have a job, so it’s up to you to take care of your family. And your pay is based on how many people you’re able to process during the day. Process correctly, ideally. If you don’t get enough money to pay rent, food and heat, your family will start starving, freezing, and get sick. At which point you have to spend even more money on medicine or they might die.
It’s not a very happy game. To pile things on, people will try to bribe you, or get you to help them in certain ways, and you have to make the decisions on what you do and don’t find acceptable. Will you stick to the book, or accept a citation in order to earn some extra cash or help a wife join her husband so she doesn’t have to go back to her homeland and be executed?
For what is an ugly-looking game about checking documents there is a surprising amount of depth and intrigue that sucked me in and led me through 33 days of work until I reached an ending. Ending 9 of 20, the game told me. So apparently there are 20 different endings. It’s a good thing I really don’t mind playing the game over again. I have ideas for different types of playthroughs that could prove interesting.
So what has changed from the early demo to the released version? Well, I’m glad you asked! First off there are now two modes: Story and Endless. I’ve not tried Endless yet, because the story is too fascinating to abandon, but I’ve heard it’s essentially all randomised for as long as you can last. Which sounds like a great way to practice actually.
There’s also an options menu:
Yes, there’s a box for Nudity, because of the body scanner. It really shows you everything, though it’s honestly not the least bit erotic or titillating. The music is fantastic, but being able to adjust volume levels is good if you want to watch a movie or listen to a podcast while playing. And I also think it’s nice that you can change the date format if you’d like. Personally I was so used to the standard format that I preferred it that way, but it could help newcomers get into it.
You also occasionally get the option to spend a few dollars on upgrading your booth with equipment that should help you work faster, like Spacebar to activate Inspect Mode, or Tab to pull out and put away the stamps. And if you earn enough money, you might even be able to afford a better apartment! I am not sure if better apartments actually give you any benefits (besides higher rent), because I wasn’t good enough to keep mine for long.
And of course there’s the story. Told through the newspapers, the morning briefings and your interactions with hopeful immigrants, guards, officials and secretive people, there is quite a lot of stuff to dig into, and interesting choices to be made. Seeing the results of something you did good or bad the day before in a newspaper headline could be morale-boosting, or soul-crushing.
The thing about Papers, Please is that it is (as far as I know) completely unique. I’ve never seen or played anything like it, and it’s far more absorbing than you’d expect. If you’re not completely sure if it’s a thing for you, you can try the demo which lets you play for 8 or 9 days and try over again as many times as you want. And if you’re already sold, you can find it on Steam, Gog.com and the Humble Store. All links are on the main page, and there are both Windows and Mac versions available.
Now, for those who are planning to try it out, here are some tips to get you started (if you want them):
1) On the first day time will go faster than on other days, but the only thing you need to check is whether or not they have an Arstotzkan passport. If they do, let them in, if not, deny them. No need to check photos or dates yet, so you can still earn a fair bit of cash if you’re fast.
2) Time is frozen at the start of the day, and won’t start ticking until you tell the first person to come to your booth. So feel free to use this time to look over the newspaper, read your morning briefing in detail or leaf through the handbook. Take as much time as you want/need.
3) There is very rarely more than one discrepancy in a person’s documents. So if you find one, and resolve that to a position where they look eligible to enter, I’d say it 99% safe to let them in without looking for more discrepancies. And if you have to deny, you have to deny. Update: It seems like double errors on documents have become more common in more recent builds, or perhaps I’ve just been unlucky. Just remember to keep your eyes sharp.
4) If any of the documents have an expired date, it’s pointless to interrogate the person about it. Just deny them and save yourself some time. (Unless you’re so far in that you need Reason For Denial as well.) You can’t arrest them for an expired date anyway.
5) You will quickly get the ability to detain people, but this costs you a few seconds longer than simply denying them, so maybe you’d rather have that time to process an extra person or two that day.
6) For missing documents you have to use Investigation Mode to highlight the relevant rule in the Basic Rules section of your handbook along with your desk to be able to ask them if they have them.
7) You get paid for both Approvals and Denials, but you can also get citations both for Denying people eligible for entry, or letting in someone you shouldn’t. Unlike the demo, in the full version you now only get paid for people you correctly process.
8) You don’t get paid for anything past 6pm, so feel free to take your time with the final person once the horn sounds. Though if you’re really slow and some scripted event is supposed to happen that day, you will have to keep working unpaid overtime until it triggers.
9) You can get two free citations per day before they start deducting your pay. Use this fact wisely depending on how you want to play.
10) Practice. Practice practice practice. Practice makes perfect in this game. You need to learn what to look for, how to read the documents and where all the triggers and comparison points are. This is not like any game you’ve played before (most likely).
11) Check the bloody issuing cities. A wrong or invalid issuing city for a passport is the thing that still gets me the most, after invalid birthdates and issue dates. This can be both misspellings or the wrong city for that country. Update: Since the search terms suggest people are wondering this, here’s how to highlight an invalid issuing city discrepancy. 1) Open the Handbook on the map page. 2) Find the country the passport says the immigrant is from and click it. 3) Enter Investigation Mode and highlight the Valid Issuing Cities and compare that to the Issuing City on their passport.
12) Play at your own pace. In the release version you’re free to replay a day as many times as you want, so focus on learning to be correct first, and fast later. (The demo version requires you to restart from Day 1 if you want a do-over.)
13) Have fun!