Game Review: Papers, Please

No, we’re not in Arizona and this isn’t a politically charged op ed column, but rather a review of a video game that assigns you all sorts of tasks. You are required to check the passports, entry permits, work permits and even search for illegal items on people planning to enter the fictional dystopian country of Arstotzka.

At first glance, this sounds really boring, but it makes for quite the interesting puzzle game. Set in 1983, you’re given the task searching for counterfeit paperwork, mismatched dates, non-matching photos, and forged seals after winning the “labor lottery” in which you are forced to work.PapersPleaseGameplay


Each person you clear for entry into the country gets you paid a few measly dollars that mostly goes to support your uncle, mother in law, wife, son and yourself. That doesn’t even include your daily rent or the daily heating bill, or if they get sick or injured. If you’re out of money and can’t afford to pay for proper heat, they’ll grow cold and sick and then you’ve gotta pay for medicine.

It’s a gloomy atmosphere that sets the stage for the moral choices that you get to make. The game makes it really difficult to do the right thing as the Arstotzkan government will fine you if you incorrectly allow somebody into the country or incorrectly reject someone who was actually cleared for entry. This means you’ll get less for your family and endanger their lives if you decide to help out a poor guy who’s had his passport expire by a single day.

If you’re feeling extra mean, you can ask the guards to detain people, who are then taken to a nearby building that not many people ever seem to come back out of. As the days progress, events like terrorist attacks will occur that force the government to impose stricter rules on those seeking to enter Arstotzka. Pretty soon you’re checking 5 or 6 different pieces of paperwork for correct expiration dates, correct official seals, pictures, weights and diplomatic visas all while juggling your own morality and the health and safety of your “family.”

The people you help, don’t help, or accept help from throughout the game has a vastly different effect on the course of the game. There are about 20 different endings and in my play, I was gifted $1,000 anonymously. To put this in perspective of the game, this is like receiving $100,000!

I was able to move to a brand new apartment and properly provide for the family. However, later in the game my neighbors had reported my suspicious increase in wealth to the authorities who then seized every last dollar. After the investigation was through, the Arstotzkan government put me under arrest for conspiring with what they considered a terrorist group. This was all because I made a mistake in reading some paperwork and allowed somebody into Arstotzka that I should have rejected!

Story 10/10 There’s something new, fresh, and lurking around the corner resulting from each decision you make.

Graphics 9/10 – The game takes the pixel art style, but is incredibly detailed. It gives you all that you need to know and properly sets the stage for the atmosphere

Mechanics 8/10 – As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy puzzle games, this was extremely engaging to play.

Collegian Entertainment Writer Diego Carrera can be reached at