Genre | Adventure, Art
Developer | Lucas Pope
Platforms | PC, OSX
In Papers, Please the player plays as a documents inspector at a border checkpoint in a fictional Eastern European country named Arstotzka. The player must earn a wage each day to provide heat, food, shelter, and medicine for their family. The player is paid based on how many documents they inspect each day. Making a mistake while inspecting a document leads to a reduction in the player’s wage. The storyline branches depending on the player’s choices about who to let through, whether to accept bribes, and other actions that the player can take.
Papers, Please is divided into levels, each of which represents a day. The number of levels in a given playthrough varies depending on the choices the player makes. The player can restart the game from any of the levels they have completed and continue playing so as to make different choices. Much of the document inspection consists of comparing the eponymous papers against each other, against the person who the papers belong to, and against the rules, in order to detect errors. The rules change often and the player is sometimes required to detect errors that would not have been errors had the rules not changed that day.
When the player encounters a discrepancy between any two things, they can either point out this discrepancy and give the person a chance to explain themselves and provide missing documents, or the player can refuse entry. Refusing entry is faster and allows the player to process more documents, which leads to a higher wage. Sometimes special events occur, such as someone trying to bribe the player or someone asking to be let through even though their documents are not in order.
The graphics in Papers, Please are pixel art. Gray, tan, and other muted colors feature prominently. The sound in Papers, Please is minimal. It focuses mostly on dialogue, which is made up of a garble of meaningless phonemes, and the sounds which are made by things the player can interact with. Each switch and piece of paper and button and stamp and lever makes a noise when the player interacts with it. When the player makes a mistake, they receive a printout listing their mistake, and the noise the printer makes as it prints the printout is strident. The music in Papers, Please is similar to the national anthem of some Soviet states in character.
Sometimes in Papers, Please the player is faced with a choice between doing something that will allow them to feed their family or doing something that a stranger desperately needs them to do. Throughout the course of the game, the player learns about the state of Arstotzka and the neighboring countries through brief conversations, a daily newspaper, the information listed on the documents of people from the various countries, and the appearance of people from these countries.