Mobile Watch: Papers, Please

Papers, Please is perhaps the only game where you’ll want to go to work from 6am until 6pm. Here’s a game which is effectively a simulation of one of the most boring jobs – a twelve hour shift as border patrol in a dystopian nation – but takes that and hooks you in with some brilliant game mechanics, branching outcomes, and an incredible sense of progression throughout.

On PC, the game was a success, although management of items could be somewhat counter-intuitive (intentionally so at times) but on iPad, with touch controls and a new vertical layout which makes much more sense in terms of screen real estate, the game really comes into its own.

If you haven’t heard of Papers, Please before then it’s not hard to imagine how it plays out: you have to check passports of people coming into the country, working against the clock to get enough cash to keep your family healthy and rent paid while also making sure not to accidentally let any people with expired documents, false identities, or tendencies for terrorism past.

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It’s all about the way that the game starts you off with simply checking passports, before bringing in sanctions on people from different nations meaning that you’ll now have to be cross-comparing these with identity cards or immigration documents. As the game progresses, you’ll get better, but the amount of paperwork each person brings grows, and the mistakes – even coming down to height or weight – are easier to make.

There’s an incredible sense of realism to this world which really takes the game beyond its mechanics. You must choose whether a selfish deed is more important than a sensible one, or even form alliances with unlikely characters. The story paths – of which many can be active at once – are the real core of Papers, Please, although at times it does feel as though you’re being forced in a certain direction, and attempting to stray off the beaten path just won’t work.

But that is life in Arstotzka. You don’t really have control of your future, but you’ll keep going anyway just to see where it gets you. You’ll struggle to make ends meet and you’ll resent the condescending certificates given to you by the government which you hate. At times, you’ll take the moral high ground and empathise with a character only to have this affect your paycheck and your own life. It’s hellish, stressful, and incredibly addictive.

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On iPad, there are a few extra quirks such as multitouch gestures which should help you in the game and with precise and fast finger controls, it’s a much more speedy affair when compared to the PC version. There was a bit of fuss over Apple blocking nudity – something which is actually quite important when it comes to scanning and searching people later on in the game – but thankfully this has been rectified, and the option is now there. To put it simply, it’s the best version of an already great game, though don’t expect anything too different if you’ve played the PC title before.

The game’s visuals are still as dark, grim, and pixellated as ever. Thankfully, the character designs are smartly crafted so you can tell if they match their passport, and the grey visuals truly reflect the world which this is based in. Anything more realistic would just be a distraction, and you’ll want to be focusing on the job at hand rather than anything else.

It’s somehow one of the most immersive titles around, despite the low key visuals and mundane nature of the source material. Papers, Please won’t be your thing, Papers, Please won’t be a game that you see some footage of and immediately want to play, and I’m not convinced the words in this article will have you rushing to the AppStore to buy it.

But, trust me on this one, as soon as you’re the one responsible for immigration control on the border of Arstotzka, Papers, Please becomes something that you’ll love, something that you won’t be able to put down, and something that you’ll be telling all your friends about. It’s a truly ingenious title which shows the horrors of a fictional humanity in its context, as well as the brilliance of real humanity for creating something such as this.

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