Best Concept: Papers, Please
For years now the adventure genre has been home to all manner of interesting gameplay ideas and narrative concepts, but more and more developers are pushing the innovation envelope. In a year where other stand-out titles straddled the lines of interactive fiction and exploration, Lynchian art pieces, and puzzle-platformers, Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please bent the rules and stretched the boundaries of adventure gaming more than any other. Thrusting you into a collection of repetitive, desk-based paperwork as a border control officer in a faux-Communist setting, the game presents a tapestry of minor characters and self-contained stories that players perform a crucial role in shaping as the petty bureaucrat who allows (or not) those people into Arstotzka. Turning that seemingly tedious premise into one of the most engaging games of the year is the genius of Papers, Please.
Complementing its daringly unconventional work simulation, the game’s execution is extremely refined and superbly thought out. The complex paperwork is intuitively controlled with a set of convenient tools that let you identify crucial discrepancies, while the narrative backdrop is peppered with intriguing – and often quite dramatic – events such as terrorist attacks and conspiratorial plots. You’ll also need to balance ever-changing rules, the expectations of your superiors, and even your own needs as a poor government employee for whom discretion may not always be the better part of valour. Papers, Please uses its border control framework to encompass dark storylines, political commentary, plenty of humour, and a rich, engaging world, so much so that the sheer audacity of its premise is completely forgotten once you’re swept up in its addictive, just-one-more gameplay. For its brilliant originality in pulling off an idea that could so easily have been dreary and monotonous, Papers, Please fully deserves our Best Concept Aggie for 2013.
Runners-Up: Kentucky Route Zero: Acts 1-2, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Gone Home, DEVICE 6
Readers’ Choice: Papers, Please
You can just imagine the pitch: How about a game where the protagonist never goes anywhere, just sits in a dreary cubicle at work and does paperwork all day. And better yet, it'll be placed at Communist border control – surely the singlemost humourless office in the history of labour... There were so many reasons for Papers, Please NOT to work, but by brilliantly mixing observation-based problem-solving with intriguing characters and storylines that players got to influence with their choices, Lucas Pope created a uniquely engaging adventure-simulation-thing. Call it what you will, just remember to call it 2013's Best Concept Aggie Award winner.
Runners-Up: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, Gone Home, Kentucky Route Zero: Acts 1-2
Next up: Best Setting... the envelope, please!Continued on the next page...