Papers, Please is an unusual game where you play an immigration inspector. Your job is to make sure everyone passing through the border has their papers in order, and follow an ever changing set of immigration laws.
In Papers, Please, you play a citizen of a Soviet-style republic who has been told to work as an immigration inspector. You don't earn much, and are punished financially for making mistakes. As each person comes through immigration control, you have to make sure everything is correct. This gets increasingly complicated as the game progresses, so it can be easy to miss something, which earns you a penalty.
You have to make sure you can feed your family and keep them healthy, so making mistakes can have bad effects on them. It's difficult to manage on your basic salary, so mistakes can lead to you having to choose which family member you want to keep alive. Pretty depressing stuff.
Depressing drab retro
Papers, Please has a well designed interface and good controls that you will pick up easily as the game progresses. Graphically, it's got a pixelated, 8-bit look to it, which suits the drab 80s Soviet feel of the game. But Papers, Please is not a game where graphics or sound are the main attraction. It's a game that will make you think, and that forces you to look at what kind of person you would be when forced to choose between deserving immigrants and looking after your family.
Are you a bad person?
Papers, Please is not a fun game, in the traditional sense. But it is compelling, very well designed and written. As proof that videogames are not dumb, and can be 'art', it's excellent.