Papers, Please is exactly what the box promises. That means unique and innovative, but also fairly dull and ugly. Arguing with deliberate design choices is rarely fruitful, so I’ll just say I could enjoy it more had other choices been made.
The atmosphere is excellent. Music, presentation and the graphical style do a great job of conveying a “Soviet” atmosphere.
The game play, however, is lacking. In part this is deliberate, since you can later spend money to somewhat improve the cumbersome interface. Still, the decision to limit the player’s interaction to pointing out discrepancies and stamping passports is somewhat odd. You’re supposed to care about your family, but they have neither names, nor faces, nor personalities.
There are several interactions where you wish you could choose the character’s reply, instead of standing there and waiting for the dialogue to be over.
You can’t refuse bribes, sometimes people just drop money and go.
You can’t discard objects, so people can burden you with items there’s no way to get rid of.
All in all, it looks like a deliberate choice to limit interactivity so much, but I personally felt the game would’ve been better served with an occasional player-controlled dialogue, and maybe some sections before/after working days.
Gameplay itself is tiring. This is again deliberate but it wears thin very quickly. The game heaps on requirements, and very soon you need a deft mouse hand to be able to process enough people to make your daily (?) rent payment. There’s an “easy” mode that may mitigate some of that - being a decent arcade player I just weathered, adopting some heuristics to ignore some of the lower ROI checks.
The plot is rather threadbare, which ties back to the lack of interaction. You’re not given any real reason to choose one side or the other, and the game ultimately has three real endings, the other 17 being slight variations on failure. So, while offering some replay value (getting the endings where you side with on faction requires different choices early on), the endings are rather humdrum and I felt justified in picking mine and then watching the rest on YouTube.
All in all it’s an interesting experiment and very atmospheric game, but the game play is lacking and the fact it’s deliberately so doesn’t make it any more fun.
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Time Played: 5-10 hours