January 8th, 2014 by Novotny
Happy New Year. I hope you are all fully recovered from our festive break and productively pursuing our eternal goals for 2014 and every other year: lashings and lashings of ginger beer and far too many pork pies.
I’m just getting over a rather difficult bout of writer’s blocked, a malady that afflicts those of us with a thirst for ginger beer – or any beer, really. So unsuitably unrefreshed, I hack at this keyboard like the grey ghost I am.
I said I’d say something about some games I’d said something about, and one of those games is Papers Please, the indie title released in August. If you ever come home from the office and think to yourself ‘omg where did the day go? I really could do with some more work’ then this is the title for you.
It’s quite a novel premise: we’re in 1982, and you have been randomly selected from the good citizens of Arstotzka, a fictional communist country of Eastern Europe, to be an inspector at a border checkpoint which has just reopened after a war. This is good news for your family as you get the opportunity to live in a slightly upgraded apartment and be meaningfully employed.
Your first day at work is simple enough: Check passports and deny any foreigners entry to glorious Arstotzka. You get paid for the number of successful processes you perform. Take away your rent, living costs etc and you have hopefully a little left over. Go to sleep.
The next day adds a level of complexity; we’re letting in foreigners now, but they must have valid passports. You need to be checking where the passport was issued, names etc. Miss something and you will receive a citation – and too many of those and you start to get fined. Go bankrupt and you get jailed. Each day adds a level of complexity in some manner, as different rules are applied to who gets in and who doesn’t, what papers they must have, interesting characters you are told to watch out for and so on.
So is this just unpaid work – it doesn’t sound like fun, does it? Well, little things start happening, and soon you find a story revealing itself though your engagements with those passing through the checkpoint, guards, your bosses and others too. You become an arbiter in people’s lives, and more. What starts as a sort of crazy minesweeper/tetris mash-up soon starts to take on interesting moralistic undertones. Or maybe overtones. Or maybe not, if you have no morals. At any rate, morality or not, it gets interesting.
There are twenty possible endings, but I’ve only seen one so far: I’ve made too many errors and been jailed for being unable to pay the rent. However in my current game, I’ve got way further than previously and so many things are happening. I fully expect to mess up shortly but I’m sure I’ll see a different ending this time.
The graphics are, wonderfully, a throwback to 1982 too. The atmosphere is bleak and slightly oppressive, aided by a superb musical score. Papers Please is almost certainly the most intriguing game I’ve played in 2013 and you should play it too.