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Papers, Please is a nerve-racking game about a desk job

Categories: Gaming

Papers, Please isn't your average video game about slaying monsters, waging war or matching lines of fruit. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to work in the bureaucracy of an oppressive government, though, this is the game for you.

That's probably not a very good sell, but you'd be surprised at how compelling this oddity by relative unknown game developer Lucas Pope can be.

Set in a fictional communist state of Arstotska in 1982, you play a newly appointed immigration border officer tasked with assessing immigrant and citizen entry applications. A crowd of applicants line up in front of your booth and present their passport and other identification. You inspect their documents to make sure they're in order, stamp them as either APPROVED or DENIED, and then hand it back to them.

It starts out easy. You take a look at passports and make sure they haven't expired. Sometimes the photo on the document isn't the same as the person facing you, as depicted in flat, 8-bit-style. If you find a discrepancy, you interrogate the applicant and decide whether their response checks out or not.

Then someone from neighbouring Kolechia jumps the wall, killing a border guard with an explosive, and things get really weird.

If this doesn't sound like fun,'d be right. Papers, Please isn't "fun" in the traditional sense at first. But as applicants get shadier and trickier, and the government's requirements for applications gets more and more complicated and absurd, players have a hell of a mystery to solve in the vein of classic point-and-click detective adventure games.

460-papers-please-03.jpgSome applicants will have stories to tell you, or problems they need fixing, that go far beyond a simple 'Approved' or 'Denied' stamp on their passports. (Games by Lucas Pope)

Soon the forged passports are harder to catch, the applicants' lies are tougher to spot and the government officials breathe more heavily down your back. Eventually you're required to parse through passports, work permits and fingerprints, while scanning suspected terrorists for contraband or knives strapped to their backs underneath their clothes.

The stories of the applicants you meet are strangely compelling, despite seeing them for maybe 30 seconds at a time since you have to process quickly before the day ends. A clueless joker hands a "Cobrastan" passport scribbled in crayon. A woman pleads for protection from a man who she fears will force her to work in a brothel.

A masked dissident hands you a $1,000 bribe, making a mockery of your $40 or so daily wage. Will you turn away his comrades from the border, or assist them in bringing down the obviously oppressive government that is also feeding and housing your wife and child?

The more people you process, the more money you make. From your "score" is deducted your rent, food and heating. The health of your family members is listed as OK, SICK or COLD - and if your performance is poor enough you could lose any of them forever.

Papers, Please is a nerve-racking sleuthing game with relentless pacing and dozens of compelling characters - all from a desk job.

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