Being the inspector of a nation’s border doesn’t sound like much fun. In fact, most real inspectors would tell you it’s a slog. But that didn’t stop indie developer Lucas Pope from creating “Papers, Please,” an intriguing and thrilling narrative built out of the mechanics of immigration.
The game immediately sets the tone from the second you start it: “The October labor lottery is complete. Your name was pulled.”
You are now an immigration inspector, and you must control the flow of immigrants and filter out the smugglers, spies, terrorists and more.”
From here, immigrants will enter your inspection booth and give you their documents, including passports, permits or even bribes. Players have to look at these documents carefully for any discrepancies. Making even the tiniest mistake will result in a deduction from your pay. That pay is what ends up feeding and warming your family, so decisions must be made carefully.
Along the way, you’ll run into different kinds of people who insist on entry despite not having the proper documentation. Everybody from well-intentioned rebels to mothers who simply want to see their families again will try to use many techniques to get in. Kind players can look the other way and let them in at the cost of their own salary. This shapes the overall narrative and state of the country, and there are many achievements for befriending the right people. It adds an interesting moral wrinkle to the game not seen in most other releases.
Carefully looking for contradictions in the documents is an engaging mechanic in and of itself, but the game goes a step further by framing the mechanics with an incredible plot the player can influence with the press of a stamp.
Also, for those uninterested in the story, an “Endless” mode can be unlocked that challenges the player without the distracting moral choices thrown in. It’s a nice addition for those who like the gameplay and want to continue once the story is over.
“Papers, Please” uses game mechanics to tell an ingenious story with immensely compelling moral choices[CE1] , and it’s for that reason it carries a hearty recommendation. In addition to an amazingly executed story, the game carries a ton of replay value — and for only $10, you’ll get quite the package.