Simulation games come in all shapes and sizes. You have the serious games that could well be used to train budding train drivers or forklift operators, then you have games that are somewhat realistic, but add a good degree of fun into the mix, à la Rollercoaster Tycoon, and finally, you have the ridiculous games that are just there to poke fun at the genre, like Goat Simulator. Papers, Please definitely wouldn’t fit into the first category, but it certainly could fit into both of the latter categories, as it sees you in the role of a fictional Soviet country, acting as their border control officer.
I don’t think there’s a person out there that would instantly think that a role as a passport officer sounds like a cracking way to spend a weekend. Checking immigrants’ papers against the vast rulebook to determine whether or not they’re allowed into the glorious nation of Arstotzka doesn’t exactly sound like terrific fun. Somehow though, 3909 have managed to take such mundane actions and turn them into a thoroughly enjoyable game. With each passing day come new challenges that you must pass in order to keep you and your family alive, as well as placating your communist overlords. It shows that no matter what the source material, game developers can make anything fun, and Papers, Please is definitely fun.
As well as the oddly fun gameplay, the game has a brilliant branching story too. You’ll find that as you play, you’re faced with a number of decisions, some of which may well give you a much harder think than you’d expect. Weighing up the decision to save a young lady from prostitution when you’re on your final warning from your bosses, which could mean curtains for your family, is a surprisingly tricky decision. There’s also a plot line you can take to join or quash a resistance force against your communist overlords, so there’s a lot going on that you’ll really need to try to keep your eye on.
Another big draw of the game is the art style. If you’ve ready any of my previous reviews, I have a soft spot for retro styled games and Papers, Please gives me exactly what I want in that respect. It provides everyone who plays with a fantastically dark look at what life in a Soviet bloc country would be, while retaining the cute factor of the retro styles. All of the different characters you’ll either allow or deny through your booth have the downtrodden faces and demeanour associated with citizens of that regime, but occasionally, you’ll get a shining light and see an absolute nutter with a smile plastered across his face, who you will always feel bad denying.
There are very few downsides to this game, and because of that, it’s clear why it was nominated for a BAFTA – it’s good, well thought out and brilliant fun. The developers really thought of every outcome and what the world would be like in this dystopian nightmarish country of Arstotzka, so it’s no wonder the game came out as critically acclaimed as it did. It has all the aspects required to make it a brilliant game, and one you really should have in your library.