I thought it would be a good idea to review a few Greenlight submissions on Steam while I had some downtime (not playing SimCity or Star Wars or whatever). They can be either an exercise in creativity, or futility. I feel sorry for some of these people who have submitted games, but they lack the skill or the unique ideas to sell an indie video game to the rest of the world. Some just need a little cleaning up and tweaking, but some are pretty interesting to the point that no matter how dated the graphics are or what the subject is, they might just make it.
Take Papers, Please by Lucas Pope.
This entire premise of the game is that your country (which harkens back to the Cold War) has opened it’s borders to travelers, workers and immigrants after 6 years of no passage. You won an lottery shortly thereafter, in which you are privileged to live in the border city of East Grestin and work in the crossing booth all by yourself. Your family will be provided with Class-8 housing (not sure what that is, but it sounds better than Class-7 housing). That’s it – any food or medicine or rent or heat will have to be paid by you as you work at the border crossing booth.
The music and the gloomy graphics showing the line of people waiting to get into the booth to cross the border reminds you of the good ol’ USSR and East Germany.
It gets even better. You make so many credits a day by how many people you can filter through your little booth in one day. 5 credits per person, to be exact. The problem is that you have to be quick in analyzing the people in front of you without making too many mistakes (because mistakes cost you credits). Your family of four is depending on you doing a good job, which makes it even more tragic by day 8 or 9. Can you afford the heat when the temperature outside plummets, because if you don’t, everyone gets cold and eventually, sick. If you can’t pay the rent, you lose the house and your position.
Sound easy? It’s not, because every day, the rules for letting people into your country of Arstotzka change.
Of course, it might also sound boring, but you get a variety of real characters trying to get into your country. After day one, someone climbs the fence and throws a bomb at the guard, killing them. Instantly, there are more guards stationed on the crossing, more rules imposed and all sorts of people trying different tactics to get past your keen eye. You have the ability to pull up your rule book, any documents that you need, check the special orders given to you by the state, and in later stages – fingerprint, scan and detain any suspicious suspects.
The thing that slows me down is making sure the city of issuance actually exists in the country the passport is from. Including checking the outside of the passport and referring to the map every now and then. There’s also the matter of weird behavior by people in the line (call girls coming to work in East Gresh continue to give me their business cards, which I assume will be an offense sooner or later). Once you review the person’s documents (or lack of them), you take their passport and stamp it.
At some point, you’re pressed for time and the rules get ridiculously convoluted. Not to mention there are lots of people either trying to smuggle contraband across the border, flee the authorities for a crime in another country, or set off a bomb in their pants. You start to get jaded, and you wonder if you shouldn’t just stamp every person’s passport with DENIED in the hopes that your rate of success outweighs your rate of failure. Because bombs and terrorists only make things HARDER the next day.
It’s all fun as you try to figure out which person is going to earn you a reprimand for screwing up and which one is not. Some are obvious – the infamous person with the Gender: M on their passport that is definitely a woman by all appearances who tells you the obvious lie in their Eastern accent “Please, I am man.” And the other obvious LOL worthy moments.
Again, don’t let the graphics fool you – the game is actually ingenious in it’s simple design. I kept playing multiple times and starting over when I made enough mistakes to let my family die in the beta. It’s deceptive, much like some of the fabricated papers and stamps you’ll run into – it seems like it would be boring or less than fun, but it’s not. It’s actually addictive!
Just a heads up – there’s a guy who keeps trying to cross the border every day with another strange excuse that doesn’t meet up with the rules of the day. I’m not sure who he is or why he’s trying to get across the border, but I suspect that he’s some sort of terrorist or state lackey. I haven’t finished the beta yet, so I don’t know which it is. But he’s hilarious – his phony passport on Day 3 made me laugh. It was a real bad forgery with crayon. I was like, “WTF? GET OUT OF HERE!!!”
I even got bribed a few times. Don’t let that happen to you. It’s not worth it in the long run.
This game should get some publicity, because it is a great game. It is unique, fun and somewhat a puzzle. It makes you keep trying over and over again just to see if you can have a quick and flawless day. And not lose any family members because you don’t make enough money and rent goes up by 5 credits.
Gets my creativity APPROVAL stamp. It may pass the border crossing into Good Indy Games.
- Nate ‘EmCeeKhan’ Baumbach (@EmCeeKhan)