Who would have thought that a game about bureaucracy could be so incredibly entertaining? The premise behind Papers, Please is simple – you have gained a job through the labour lottery and you are now the inspector at the newly opened border.

You need to check each person’s documents to determine if they are allowed into the 1980s miscellaneous Communist country, Arstotzka. You are paid based on the number of people that you process, but don’t expect your salary to cover much more than rent, heat and food – if you can even afford that.

As far as actual game play goes, the game is straight forward – it is, at its core, a spot the difference game. You need to check the passports, ensure the names are spelled correctly, stamps and seals are accurate, and as the game progresses conduct searches on people who do not match descriptions to ensure they aren’t carrying contraband. If you make mistakes you will receive warnings and eventually salary deductions – something quite critical when you are barely making ends meet.

The genius of the game comes in the story telling. Each day you will be faced with real stories of hardship; you can choose what kind of border guard you want to be. Will you be lenient and let the wife in to join her husband even though she doesn’t have the necessary documents? Will you support the secret society striving to overthrow the government? Each move you make can cause various repercussions – not just financially, but to the overall story. It is up to you if you remain loyal to Arstotzka, if you are meticulous or sloppy with your job, and how well you look after your family. Will you take bribes? Will you break rules? This could send you on a path towards one of 20 different endings.

On my third play through I decided to be a revolutionary and let through the secret agents striving to overthrow the government. I still wouldn’t take their bribes, as I knew my neighbours would notice and suspect something. Unfortunately, it was soon time for my government audit and they confiscated my family’s passports. Luckily, one of the friends that I’d made was a man from a nearby country who knew where to get forged passports and papers. Yup, that ending had me on the opposite end of the counter as I attempted to enter a different country using forged documents.

The pacing is very well done – adding new rules as your skills improve. One day you may not be allowed to grant entry to anyone from a particular country, the next day you might be instructed to confiscate passports from locals. Each day comes with a unique set of challenges – wanted people, unique stories, individual needs. Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of things, new rules pop up – or your focus shifts and you forget about the old ones. I still remember checking one woman’s papers so carefully – her passport was valid, entry permit was correct and matched her verbal responses to questions, so I stamped her passport and welcomed her to Arstotzka, only to be fined for allowing someone in with a gender that didn’t match. Yup, her passport said she was a man! In future play throughs I was careful to also always check genders, leading to some weird interrogations and searches. I suppose that makes this game less than friendly to gender bending people, but it fits with the oppressive, pseudo-Soviet state.

Papers, Please has taken up many, many hours of my life already, and I still haven’t gotten all 20 endings. I just can’t stop playing – I keep wanting to go for one more day, one more inspection. Each time I play, the experience and story is different and interesting. This little gem is definitely worth your attention.ย  Pick it up on Steam (Mac and PC versions available) for ten bucks, and prepare to pour in hours of your life – for the Glory of Arstotzka!

Last Updated: September 9, 2013

Papers Please
Well-paced, straight-forward game play combines with vivid storytelling to make into a fantastic game. More than a tale of bureaucratic spot the difference, Papers, Please is a game of intrigue and excitement balanced by fear for your family. A must play!
Papers Please was reviewed on PC
85 / 100

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let's get on with it!

  • Admiral Chief of Rivia


    Where is Tanya to shed some light for us?

  • Admiral Chief of Rivia

    Games like these are my bane…cannot get enough of them.

    Like FTL….cannot…put….it….DOWN

    • Her Highness the Hipster

      i know! didn’t even realize i’d been playing for four hours until i realized i was hungry. so addictive!

      • Admiral Chief of Rivia

        Are you talking about FTL?

  • RinceThesewinestains

    Nice review Zoe! Sounds sweet. You get any time in with FF14? Trololo! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      I read your new name as “Rince The Swine Stains”. It was confusing for a bit. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Admiral Chief of Rivia

        Swine stains…..O_O

      • Umar Final Fantasy 15 Hopeful

        What has been seen cannot be unseen

      • RinceTheSwineStains

        What do you mean? It is Rince The Swine Stains 0-O BOOM! You’ve been inceptioned…

        • Alien Emperor Trevor


          • RinceTheSwineStains


  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Speaking of indie games, just got a mail about a nice little special on GOG if anyone is interested.


    • Admiral Chief of Rivia

      Yar, saw that, Alan Wake FIVE DOLLAHS

    • Hammersteyn

      Sweet thanks!

    • RinceTheSwineStains

      Wow, that’s crazy!

  • Anon A Mouse

    I did not know “The Pink Vice” falls under food services. Now I know what to say if the GF phones and I’m in a strip club. “No honey I’m just getting us take aways”

    • Her Highness the Hipster

      well, it is a service… and some people like to add food products to the experience… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • UnolyMunk

    This has to be one of my favourite games of the year so far. Trying to sell this game idea to someone else is likely the most difficult thing on earth though! I’m so glad that you guys decided to review this, more people need to know about this game!

  • Pieter Kruger

    Why would I approve a visa for Hitler? Michael Jonsson my ass!

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