Papers, Please full review

  • Papers Please for Mac: is this border control game is any good?
  • Is Papers, Please worth buying for Mac? Our review discovers if this is the masterpiece many make it out to be?
  • Can you enjoy playing a game where you’re a border control guard in an authoritarian regime. Can you keep your kids alive by checking paperwork?

Welcome to the fictional country of Arstotzkan. Actually you’re already there: a lottery has assigned you a job in border security and it’s your job to decide who’s in; and who’s out. Welcome to Papers, Please: a quirky game about border control and a compelling story set in a dystopian past.

According to the official site: “The communist state of Arstotzkan has ended a 6-year war with neighboring Colecchia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.   Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia.”

People enter your booth and present their papers. It’s your job to figure out if they can be allowed into your beloved nation.


Oddly for a dictatorship, you’re paid cash according to the customers you serve. The faster you deal with people, the more cash you get. Do it too slowly and you suffer financially, then your family gets ill and you can’t pay for them, eventually your family members start to die.

Papers, Please

Papers, Please: a story worth hearing

If you let the wrong people into the country you get a couple of warning each day, then some cash is blocked. Some people will give you sob stories, or bribes, or convince you with stories of hardship, or revolution. Arstotzka still has many enemies and your day may be cut short by a grenade attack at any time.

On the first day you find a rulebook on your desk. Read this to learn the rules: you’ll discover which countries form a regional map, who needs a visa and so on. These rules are updated every day, and you get access to increasingly sophisticated methods to quiz them.

You tap the speaker to get the next person in line, then pick up the passport from the counter and check its details. Is the expiry date correct, does the photo match the person? Some people need a visa; these are only allowed from valid cities. As the game progresses you get increasingly detailed and complex rules to follow. Some visitors may need a pass valid only for that day. This has to be checked alongside the passport and visa.

Spot any discrepancies in the paperwork and you have to click on them against the appropriate rule in the rule book. This interrogates the visitor and you get to hear their story. At the side of the screen is a large Green and Red stamp for Approved or Denied. Stamp the passport with an appropriate satisfying thunk and throw all the documents back at the applicant. You can risk letting people in if you want; but you’ll start getting fined if you’re too lenient.

Papers, Please for Mac: working for a living

There are some interesting aspects to Papers, Please (aside from the obvious subject matter). The booth seems purposefully cramped so you're often fiddling with different bits of papers. And the way it moves you from inept novice to fact-checking machine is something to behold. There are times when finding the odd discrepancy and going ‘a-hah’ and stamping a big red Denied is a thoroughly guilty pleasure.

Whether Papers, Please has something deep and meaningful to say is up for debate. It’s certainly got a story, with characters and different actions, which lead to different endings. Some other reviews suggest that Papers, Please has something deep and meaningful to say about authority, or dictatorships. Zoe Hawkins from Lazy Games says “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?"

Papers Please Interrogate

We’re not that sold if Papers, Please is that deep and meaningful. It’s no Kafka’s or Palahniuk, that’s for sure. Maybe people just want games to mean more than “fit the bricks” or “shoot the bad guys” so when a game comes out that breaks that mould (and Papers, Please does break the mould) then they think they’re deeper than they are. But it’s definitely got more to it than your average puzzle game.

Getting back to Papers, Please as a game. It is a good game. Neatly put together, with interesting  mechanics and suitably workmanlike graphics. It suffers a tad from SIM-work-itis. That feeling you get in some games where it’s interesting at first, but quickly discover it’s a lot like work. Which I guess is kinda the point but people with actual jobs may still find the point baffling.

But it is a good example of the vibrant indie games scene that the Mac has at the moment. (See also: Dear Esther for Mac review: Part game, part collaborative work of art)  Between the Mac App Store, Steam Mac Support and the corresponding iOS platform there’s never been a more vigilant period for independent gaming than now. And it’s great to see that this is resulting in some truly original ideas. Papers, Please is original and fun, and definitely worth the £7 entrance fee.

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