Sunday, 8 June 2014

Papers, Please

Papers, Please is a video game where you role-play the action-filled life of an immigration officer in the fake communist country Arstotzka. People walk into your checkpoint, you check their papers and then decide whether or not they can come into the country. It is my game of the year, better than Tomb Raider, Saints Row, Bioshock Infinite or any other game that was released in 2013. But wait, you say. Surely something with gameplay of this calibre must have something else up its sleeve. Well of course it fucking does. The game does everything right and combines story, art style, gameplay and atmosphere to make an exceptional game.

Glory to Arstotzka! The greatest country!
In the game you and your family are given an apartment to stay in because of your job as border control and you are payed for every person you deal with, unless of course you make a mistake, in which case you will not be payed and eventually fined and that's a problem because of that family at home you have to feed. First, the game starts off easy. On the first day, all people need is a valid passport to enter the country (though one hilarious, recurring character even fails this), but after a terrorist attack on your checkpoint, the system becomes more and more bureaucratic. So by the 15th level or so, the game starts to look like that picture on the right, so making a mistake that costs your son that life-saving medicine he needs is pretty easy. You are in a hopeless situation and Arstotzka doesn't give a shit about you, so you have to take care of yourself and your family, often at the cost of others. The game likes to give you choices that can turn you into either a heartless monster or the most corrupt government official in the Universe, or both. One good example is the woman who didn't get into the country because she took the piss out my son's crayon drawing. Another is the husband and wife seeking asylum. The husband gets through without a problem, but the wife doesn't have an entry permit. You have to make a choice between receiving a fine, but reuniting a couple or doing your job and rejecting her entry into the country. It might seem an obvious choice without the context of playing the game, but since all your money in game basically goes to rent and food for your family, losing even a small amount of money can be catastrophic and its easy to be unforgiving or even corrupt if it means you can that extra bit of cash by bending the system in your favour. This is the whole point of the game. You immerse yourself into the situation you are in and you see the effect your choices have on the people you interact with. Being good isn't always easy and this game showcases better than most.

You may not have realised this from my review, but Papers Please can be as depressing as fuck. The world of Arstotka is crafted with a grey, pixelated art style, almost completely devoid of colour, apart from that giant bright red stamp that says "DENIED" on it. But fear not, for every sad story, there is a hopeful one (though these hopeful stories can be fucked over by the sad ones). The game takes care in showing the humanity being crushed by the beaurocracy, authoritarian tendencies and all-round bullshit of the government. But the humanity is still there and that's what makes Papers Please so beautiful, the balance of people's compassion and dickishness. You can see loved ones reunited, save people seeking asylum from neighboring countries, but who don't have the paperwork needed to pass. You have the choice to make a huge difference in people's lives. Or you can fuck them over. Your choice.

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