Developer: Lucas Pope
Publisher: 3309 LLC
Simulation - PC
Multiple Save Slots
Gaming has been a mixed bag for me in the last 5 years. I've somehow gotten a reputation that I hate everything. Truth to be told, if a game doesn't push any creative boundaries, it's hard for it to keep my interest. Everything's been done before, Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V'd, and re-skinned. Enter Papers, Please.
In this current age of terrorism and government paranoia, Papers, Please could not be any more relevant. Presented as a border officer simulation, gameplay revolves around you checking passerby's documents to make sure everything is in order for entry into your country. Since it is your job, you get paid for how many people you process, and get docked money for mistakes you make. Balance that with the expenses you have (food, rent, etc), and hopefully you'll earn a living. Sounds simple enough. But attempting to cultivate a life under a backdrop of political strife and a totalitarian government is hardly simple.
What makes Papers, Please shine is that there are stories going on that you know little about. You are NOT the focus of these stories, and are often the bystander. Nevertheless, in your position as border officer, you are affected by and can affect these plotlines. Travelers will try to make conversation with you, even requesting an occasional favor. Sometimes the requests are innocuous. Sometimes they're not. However you decide, there could be consequences.
In addition, the hostile political climate makes each day uncertain. There will be times when your day is interrupted, causing the checkpoint station to close early, affecting your earnings. Conflict between nations may mean that your orders change, and you are commanded to treat one people group differently than another. Since every day brings different visitors, differing political conditions, and different orders, the gameplay ends up mirroring the volatility of the game world.
All of this adds up to an incredible emotional connection with the role that you play. When you let someone in the country that you shouldn't, or turn away those that you should let in, there is an impact. You are making judgment calls every moment. Do you follow orders? Do you do what is "right"? Are those two motivations compatible or mutually exclusive? And how do your decisions impact your family whom you support? These questions are impossible to avoid. It's all part of what makes Papers, Please more than a sum of its parts.
Even with the oppressive political overtones and multiple subplots coursing through, some have called the actual gameplay mechanics of Papers, Please uninteresting. I am not one of them. Each day in the game has its own character, events, and mechanics, so it's impossible to ever get completely comfortable. As soon as your inspector workday begins, I found it a frantic race to get people processed as quickly as possible, absorb the dialog and random events occurring, and doing it while avoiding errors. It's kind of like a Phoenix Wright-like contradiction-finding adventure game, an inspections sim and a score attack game all-in-one.
There are 20 endings in all, and an Endless Mode, if you can unlock it. (I haven't.)
This is my 2013 game of the year.