In the Orwellian indie game Papers, Please (for PC and Mac) you play as a border agent tasked with rooting out terrorists, smugglers, and delinquents. Dark, cold, and at times decidedly morbid, Papers, Please is an experiment in morality disguised as a Cold War paperwork simulator. Presented in retro pixel-art style, the game brilliantly constructs the dystopian nation of Arstotzka without ever taking the player outside the small border crossing.
You are charged with managing a progressively more complicated assortment of papers and passes. All must correspond, lest you let someone without proper documentation into the country, earning yourself a demerit, or worse, accidentally admitting a terrorist. These checks must be completed quickly as you are charged with completing as many as possible in the brief day. More people checked equals more money, which means more food on your table.
The central draw of the game, however, is the moral quandaries that arise. Should you reunite two lovers by breaking the rules, or do your job so you can afford your son’s medicine? It becomes a game as much about making tough moral decisions under pressure as it is about the completion of tasks in a timely manner.
This pressure, in part, lends to the game its one core flaw: the learning curve is intensive. Each day lasts only minutes, and each introduces a new mechanic to memorize; juggling the dozens of pieces of information needed to be checked becomes unwieldy, even by the fifth day. Succeeding your first play through is unlikely.
Though not for everyone, Papers, Please is a far more unique and emotionally charged experience than one would ever expect, and promises hours of replayability as you strive for perfection in the name of great nation of Arstotzka.
Papers, Please is available on Steam, GOG, and the Humble Store for $9.99.