Game Review: Papers, Please (Vita)

In the interest of full disclosure, I think I may be unduly biased when it comes to analyzing Papers, please. But hold on, because I don’t think I’m alone in this. You see, I’m an immigrant. I’ve dealt with more immigration and border officers than I care to remember. Some were nice, some were helpful. Others enjoyed ruining people’s lives. And they had the power to do so. So, yes, a retro-inspired simulation game where you’re a border officer might not be for everyone. But I loved it, and more importantly, I think it brings attention to a very important topic that is seldom discussed in gaming.

Having said that, it’s not a perfect game: aside from the retro styling, which might not be for everyone, there’s some decidedly awkward navigation during the main gameplay. There just isn’t enough real estate on the Vita screen to accommodate your booth and desk, so sometimes when navigating documents you won’t be able to scroll immediately. You see, you have a booth where you receive people trying to get into the country. The more you advance into the game, the more documents are needed for an applicant to enter. You’ve got to cross-check two or three documents at once, while sometimes cross-referencing these with parts of the interface that are no longer on screen. I think this is more a Vita issue than an issue with the game, but it makes the act of actually playing a bit cumbersome. And when you factor in that you are timed, and rewarded based on how many applicants you process each day… it can be frustrating.

The interface can get a little cluttered, and become hart to navigate during gameplay.

But that is about it.

“Papers, please” presents a delightfully (or terrifyingly) realistic depiction of soviet-era border checkpoints, where you, as a border enforcement officer, must decide who enters the country and who is rejected. For this, you have instructions provided at the beginning of each day, and a desk where you can cross-reference documentation against various factors: is the date of birth the same across all documents? Is the name? Does the applicant have all the required documentation to enter? And then you have tips from NPCs about nefarious people. Will you let them in, even though you know they are up to no good? How about that wife who didn’t get all the papers she needed but you know is a good citizen? Will you be kind and let her through?

Thankfully, the game does allow for you to break the rules a few times each day without penalty, so you can make these choices, which will have consequences. However, these consequences are my only other gripe with the game: I wish there was a more immediate, more severe and impactful manifestation of the consequences derived from your actions. Did you let a pimp in? You should see their brothel as a problem in the daily paper. Did you mistakenly let in a terrorist? Then your town should blow up.

There is some of this happening, but I feel like it could have been much more dramatically implemented. Of course, the stakes get higher as you progress, but I must admit I’d have liked more extreme measures.

You’ll read about relevant news items on the paper… but not as much as I’d like.

Aside from the main meat of the game, which as I mentioned before, consist of you either letting people into the country or rejecting them, you have to take care of your family (and yourself, obviously). You must pay rent, buy medicine, buy food… even try to upgrade your booth to speed up your process of checking applicants. But the money is, realistically enough, never as plentiful as you need it to be. Will you let your mother-in-law starve? Will you let your child get sick? Choices, choices.

Difficult choices are a daily occurrence in the game.

Again, I know I’m biased when it comes to analyzing “Papers, please”. It rings true, and hits very, very close to home. But I think it does so for a lot of people. It certainly gathered a lot of awards along the way, and people seem to be responding in a similar fashion all over the place. Sure, the interface is wonky and I wish there was more weight to my actions… but really, this is a humorously dark view at a reality that many people face every day, from both sides of that little window. It’s good to see a game that brings attention to such a relevant issue. And really, it’s a hoot to play, so that doesn’t hurt, does it?

At a glance:

  • Title: Papers, Please
  • Publisher: 3039 LLC
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Memory Card Space Required: 44MB
  • Cross Buy: TBC
  • Cross Save: TBC
  • PlayStation TV Compatible: TBC

Vita Player Rating - 09

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