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Fight For The Top 50 – Papers, Please

by Matthew Kato on Nov 28, 2013 at 05:00 PM

Choice in video games is often a black or white construct around being good or bad. Thankfully, Papers, Please is a title that explores the grey void where such simplistic labels do not apply. Even though you're a paper-pushing bureaucrat with limited gameplay options available to you, the game does not confine the agonizing decisions you must make and the fallout of your consequences. Papers, Please is a game that deserves a spot in this, or any year's, list of Top 50 games.

Learn more about the Game Informer Fight For the Top 50 Challenge 2013.

You have hit the jackpot in the fearful, controlling country of Arzstotska – the labor lottery has pulled your number and bestowed you with a job as a passport officer and your family a spot in a state-controlled apartment block. Work hard stamping passports at the border and you will earn enough money to keep your family fed, warm, and healthy. How you define being good at your job is up to you. Process enough people in a day and you'll earn enough money to provide for your family. Keep away those with the wrong paperwork, and you'll keep your job, please the state, and protect it from terrorists. Help the political underground in their resistance and you could not only be an everyday hero to the cause but possibly also rich. There is no wrong way to approach your job, but the conflicts doing your job presents and how you choose to resolve them is what makes the game so gripping.

Processing people's paperwork correctly and efficiently is all part of the fun.

The gameplay of Papers, Please is simple, but its integration into the game is perfect. Your job is simply to review people's documents and approve or deny them entry into the country. Sometimes there are more or less pieces of paper to check or different things to pay attention to depending on the changing edicts of the state, but you're still a rubber stamper. Sometimes you have to interrogate people over discrepancies in their paperwork, which can include verbal questioning, searches, or fingerprinting.

The personal dilemma becomes: How good are you at your job? Processing people quickly is in your best interest since you get paid more for doing so, but barring some entry or letting them through when you shouldn't have will also be marks against you. Get more than two of these in a day and you'll be fined or worse. In this way it's possible to let people through you know you should turn away – at the expense of you and your family's own livelihood. Do you want to help a mother (who happens to have faulty paperwork) reunite with her son or earn enough money to buy medicine for your sick family? Coupling each day's time constraints with ever-changing processing rules and your own moral ideas are what make this game gripping.

As the days on the job go by, the stakes get higher and higher. Security on the border and Arstotzka's relationship with its neighbors and an internal resistance force becomes more tense, as does navigating your career ladder. A move to a better class of housing is good news for your family, but do the neighbors and authorities think your ascent is suspicious?

Are you a diligent worker? A patriot protecting the borders? An average person doing their part to resist? A dedicated family man? 

The Top 50 Challenge
A bunch of editors have played and loved Papers, Please but it's not a game for everyone. The simple gameplay and subject matter may not sound appealing, but it's a game whose elements are intently focused at delivering the core of what it's all about. For these reasons I'm very interested to find out what Jeff Cork thinks. Lover of a wide-range of games and someone whom I think will relish the context of the title, Jeff will quickly discern if this is a case of simple-as-sublime or just a flimsy gimmick. I think it's the former, but we shall see.

Jeff Cork was given one day to play Papers, Please. Come back tomorrow at 11 PM CT to read his impressions and see if it’ll get his support for Game Informer’s Top 50 Games of the Year.