Jun 15, 2014

Papers, Please Review: Spot the difference, immigration style

in category Games

Your son is ill and your wife is screaming at you for bringing home nothing for the day. She doesn’t care about the terrorist attacks that happened that cut short your day, or that you are trying your best, cutting deals with the guards to earn just that bit of extra money. No, all she knows now is that she is cold, hungry, her son is ill and her mother and uncle are dead. And you are to blame.

You sit in your barely furnished room and try to drown out the reality around you by reciting the same words over and over again.

Papers, please.


Put simply, Papers, Please puts you in control of an immigration officer in Arstotzka, controlling the borders after a 6 year war with their neighbouring country Kolechia. You have been selected after a nation wide lottery to serve your country. You rush to accept the job, having your son, wife, mother-in-law and uncle to take care of, you juggle not just expenses, but the onslaught of bribes, terrorist groups, freedom fighters and the mundaneness of stamping passports all day long.

Never has pretending to be in a pencil pushing job been so compelling, thrilling and yet at the same time, mind boggling boring.


Each day, you are in charge of ensuring that citizens do not try to sneak past you with forged documents, incorrect information or sweet talking. It starts off simple enough, doing what you think an immigration officer would do. You ensure that the documents have not expired, that they are indeed issued in the right country and bizarrely, whether they are really male or female. At this point, you would think, hey, this is simple enough. How the hell can this be compelling?

But as the days progress, things become more complicated. You have to compare entry permits, initiate body scans, cross-check work permits and even in one case, reject a crudely done passport. Do it quickly enough and you get more dough for your family at the end of the day. Make mistakes, the regime gives you 2 strikes before cruelly deducting your already meagre income.

And the punches keep on coming.

A man legally passes through the checkpoint and tells you that his wife is just behind him, begging you to let her through. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the right paper. Do you risk penalty for the sake of the husband or do you listen loyally to the leaders of your regime and deny entry, knowing that you would doom her? What if a woman passes through and tells you that her “master” is going to not offering her a job as he had promised her? What about freedom fighters telling that Arstotzka is not what it seems.

And your family is still at home, clamouring for food, comfort, heat and the thought of a better life.

Man, Life in Arstotzka is REALLY hard.


The game splits in a 31 day cycle, with the story told in a series of events. From spies being captured, to suicide bombers, you get updates each morning from the ministry. You watch out for wanted criminals, help capture freedom fighters. All while stamping passports, playing spot-the-difference with as many as 5 documents at one time. With 20 endings, the game’s replayablity is remarkable. But at the core of it, you will always be stamping passports.

And there-in lies the problem. As compelling as the story is, it can get REALLY REALLY boring. If you have seen how immigration officers are at checkpoints, you know that they really do nothing but stamp on passports everyday. Granted, they don’t face the same kind of problems that the game imposes on you but that essence is perfectly captured.

Perhaps that is the point. Bureaucracy at its finest, with red tapes all around, you are nothing but another nameless face. You cannot do anything to stop the gears of the country from moving and even if you die, you will be replaced with another nameless face.

You can hear your son crying again. Your wife stopped screaming and rushed to comfort him. You stare at your hands and then look at the clock. It ticks closer to another day at the office. You wish it would end, that things would get better. But all you know are stamping passports all day long. It will never end.

Glory to Arstotzkan.

A compelling take on the life of an Immigration Officer, Papers, Please will leave you wondering about your humanity and test the limits of your patience. If narrative and fresh gameplay is your cup of tea, get Papers, Please immediately.