Category Archives: 5

A Former Bureaucrat Plays Papers, Please

Okay, so the title may be a bit of a stretch; I was never important enough to be a bureaucrat.  I was just a lowly, replaceable peon… not unlike the beleaguered border Inspector from Papers, Please.  I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game where I felt so much empathy for my PC as the nameless Inspector.  I knew what he was going through because, to a far lesser extent, I’ve been there myself.  And since I haven’t seen anyone talk about this game from somewhat of a first-hand experience, I decided to do something other than write a proper review.  After all, a game like Papers, Please deserves no less.

For those who have read the few previous articles where I’ve mentioned the job I had prior to finishing up college, I worked for seven years in emergency services, specifically as a 911 call taker/dispatcher (in the county I live they’re not separate positions).  In addition to handling every police, fire & medical emergency in the county, our office handled entering records into the national crime database.  Every missing person, stolen possession, warrant & protection order was handed down to our department.  And while this might sound interesting to every nosy person with a police scanner, most of the time it was a lot of paperwork & staring at computers.

Often during my Papers, Please playtime I felt like was having a PTSD flashback to my years in that box of an office.  People always think I’m joking, but I have nightmares about having to go back to work there.  Sitting at my little cubicle, papers spread across my desks, going through every single keystroke to make sure the person who entered the record got everything right.  Running criminal histories, making sure every previous alias, no matter how asinine, got entered.  Checking fingerprints.  Serial numbers.  And all while knowing there was just another person down the line who’d be checking my checking.  Ugh!  Layers upon layers of bureaucracy.  I’m all for checks & balances, but there’s a point when it just becomes a big circle jerk.

I’m not sure if my experience robotically checking records made the game any easier for me, though I do wish I’d had a discrepancy checker like the Inspector did.  It would’ve been a lot easier than just my eyes.  More importantly, I would’ve loved to have had a DETAIN or DENY option, both for dealing with the public & officials.  More than once did I think, “Can I just arrest you for wasting my time?” or, “Can we get a system that sends a shock through this person’s mobile?”.  The former usually came after being butt-dialed for the fiftieth time from the same number.  Seriously, stop sitting on $200+ pieces of technology.

But where Papers, Please really started hitting the empathy buttons was when the Inspector had to deal with the trickle down of politics.  Like the Inspector, at least in my playthroughs, I too know what it’s like to be chewed out by a supervisor for making a mistake at a job they don’t even know how to do, & holding your tongue when they cop an attitude because they have just enough power to let it go to their head.  To be lauded one minute & thrown under the bus the next, just for the person up the chain from me to make themselves look better.

It’s funny, because a lot people might have found how quickly rules & policies change in-game a bit unrealistic.  But while I’m sure this was an effort on Lucas Pope’s part to point out the ridiculousness & corruptness of the regime in Arstotzka, I know that crap happens!  I have been there!  I have seen local government change its mind at a moment’s notice.  I have seen how they make poor decisions without seeking counsel from parties who might know better.  I have been forced to follow protocols & procedures that I knew where doomed to fail, but nobody asked my opinion, despite being a veteran at the dispatch office (I’m not being facetious, either.  I was third most senior in my office for at least half my tenure there.).  I’ve had to change records from day-to-day because someone who made an unfairly greater amount of money than me decided they knew better.  I’ve seen the government set policies just to make a point, knowing full well they’d repeal them the next day.  Maybe a country’s government isn’t so quick to make such changes, but if nothing else, I can say that Papers, Please is an accurate representation of what happens when you give someone who’s never had any authority a little bit of power of another person’s life.  In short, it sucks.  One example that made me laugh was when, after doing my job & denying the Inspector’s supervisor’s friend entry for having the wrong paperwork, he petulantly told me, “There are no more plaques.”  As if I cared about his stupid Award of Sufficiency.  It reminded me of a time my supervisor in real life yelled at me for messing up a call (minor) because she took it as some personal attack on herself & was concerned about how it would make her look.  I could tell she wanted to argue, but couldn’t when my only response was, “Yes, I made a mistake.”  I got more enjoyment than I should have when she just stomped away after that with nothing else to say.

This isn’t all to say my past experiences meant I didn’t enjoy the game.  On the contrary.  Papers, Please in a uniquely compelling experience that I think every gamer can become absorbed in.  I just relate a little more than most gamers.  I was determined to get the Inspector out, no matter how many family members I leave behind (that last part is probably more a reflection of my estranged familial relations).

There were moments that highlighted the absurdity of being in any public service job.  Having people wanting you to bend the rules for them.  To which my usual response — in the game & real life — was, “I’m not getting in trouble for you.”  Granted, I did have the Inspector bend the rules sometimes.  Only if I hadn’t gotten any citations yet.  I like to think of myself as a utilitarian.  Papers, Please really gets you in the mindset of looking out for yourself.  My typical response to their lame excuses for discrepancies was, “Don’t care.”  They should be grateful I didn’t detain them on clerical errors.  A particularly hilarious moment, for me at least, was dealing with the Order.  I did enough for them to keep asking for favors, but not enough that they didn’t try to kill me in the end.  My first & second endings involved either going to jail for them & them wimping out in their revolution, or stopping their plans in the end but having been associated enough with them to go to jail for it.  Guess that’s what I get for trusting masked men with ill-defined goals.  I guess I was as much a sheep as the rest of the chattel.

In the end, though, I suppose that’s Papers, Please’s greatest strength.  You are just another cog in the wheel.  The Inspector’s story is just one of many.  You don’t really “win.”  You just try to survive & eek out some sort of existence.  Kinda depressing, but it does make getting an ending where you live all the more rewarding.

– GamerDame

Title: Papers, Please
Consoles: PC, Mac, iOS, Vita
Rating: N/A (personal rating T)
Developer: 3909 LLC
Publisher: 3909 LLC
Release Date: August 8, 2013

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Filed under 5, Indie, PC, Reviews

Game Review: Inside

The end of the year was the perfect time for me to take a vacation of sorts, allowing me to recharge & not even think about work or worry about the constant emails I get on a daily basis.  Fortunately this also coincided with several year-end game sales, thus allowing me to aid in this recharging by spending uninterrupted hours catching up on some games I was interested in but hadn’t gotten around to buying.  Playdead’s acclaimed Inside was one such game that I completed in a single sitting.  I’ve gone on record of saying that Playdead’s previously acclaimed game, Limbo, was a visual feast but suffered (in my personal opinion) from some frustrating puzzles & impenetrable story.  So have they improved with Inside?

inside_xbox_one_cover_art

As with their previous game, what exactly is going on in Inside is debatable, but what’s apparent from the plot is that you control a faceless boy who must traverse a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape while avoiding armed guards, rabid beasts, human-hunting machines & apparently failed human experiments to reach some indeterminate end goal.  What is the boy’s goal at the end of his journey inside the imposing factory?  Does he even know?

Inside is 2.5D sidescrolling puzzle-platformer.  Kid (as I took to calling him as he’s never given a name) must navigate a series of obstacles & puzzles to continue forward.  He can run, jump, climb, push & pull.  There are also sections where he must utilize mind-control helmets to control drone-people to help him solve puzzles, as well as an underwater section involving diving tank.


256-inside-screenshot-1466596552Narrative: There’s a fine line between being open to interpretation & being as opaque as a brick wall, but I feel Inside strikes the right balance between telling us what’s going on & letting players interpret events.  The term “visual storytelling” gets thrown around a lot in game media, but Inside is an example of putting this idea into practice & doing it well.  Without a single line of spoken dialogue or text (in fact, I don’t think there’s any text anywhere in the entire game), Inside perfectly portrays its world, & we instantly empathize with the challenges the Kid has to overcome.  The very first moment of the game is the Kid climbing out of a hole in some rocks & coming across a barrier, with mindless drone-people being loaded into the back of a shady truck, all while surrounded by glowing tanks & armed, masked guards.  Whatever’s going on, it’s not good.

Inside also does an excellent job of exemplifying “transformational media,” or the idea that each person who views a piece of media will take away their own unique experience.  Because the plot is just vague enough for us to never truly be sure of what’s going on, we build our own interpretations, & thus the story changes a little bit for each person.  The way I interpret events might be different from the next person.  Who is the Kid?  Did he intend for the outcome?  What really happened to this world?  But it leaves just enough questions unanswered to make us what to see what comes next.

I also have to say I really enjoyed the setting for Inside… if you can enjoy an oppressive, potentially doomed world.  Not only are there strong Orwellian, 1984 vibes, but it reminded me a lot of a short-story we read in high school called Harrison Bergeron (check it out if you’re a fan of dystopian science fiction).  Everything is dark & depressing, & each obstacles builds on the horror, making us think the worst of this world.  Outrunning guards, controlling drones, watching what remains of society staring blankly on as they seemingly purchase these drone-people, failed experiments, & finally the Hive Mind… I found the ending genuinely distressing.  Not something to be “happy” about, but if that was the goal of the developers, they succeeded in spades.

Overall, an intriguing mystery that will have you thinking about the game long after you’ve stopped playing.

Score: 5


2016_0719in06Mechanics: I really feel that Playdead perfected the mechanics they set out to create in Limbo with Inside.  The controls are simple & responsive.  Heck, there’s only three controls, really.  Movement with the left stick, jump & grab.  Simple, but everything controls like it’s supposed to.  I didn’t experience any frustrating lags in the Kid doing what I said or ungainliness like I did in Limbo.

The puzzles are also vastly improved.  Playdead seemed to realize that the fun & challenge in a puzzle should come from figuring it out, not in precision timing.  Of course, that might also be due to Inside being less about the futility of action & being stuck in a limbo of death & failure.  The puzzles have just the right amount of difficulty, with the solutions coming very naturally from the player’s experimentation & exploration of the environment.  There’s also a nice variety of puzzles or obstacles, mixing strategic thinking & timing.  I think my favorite was in the flooded base when you have to bait the water baby/siren thing to different parts of the water to give you time to reach the next switch.  Yes, these require timing, but to the point of making you feel tense as you try to swim away from the water baby, & not frustrating.  Although you will probably die several times, it never became frustrating to me, & the checkpoint system is very forgiving so you’ll typically restart right before you died.

Overall, smooth, solid controls & great puzzle-platforming design.

Score: 5


851099-inside-windows-screenshot-the-boy-was-shot-let-s-try-thatAesthetics: I find it funny that when I initially saw footage of Inside, I immediately thought it was from Playdead.  The art style is very similar to Limbo, utilizing atmospheric lighting, heavy shadows & imposing scenery.  The art style is suitably gloomy, & the developers clearly paid a lot of attention to detail.  For example, the Kid’s red shirt is some of the only color in the game.  Everything feels muted.  Another detail that makes me wonder about its narrative significance is the fact that people don’t have faces, but specific people are shown wearing masks with faces on them, like the guards & “regular” citizens.  What does it mean?  And while I’m a little loathe to do so, I give Playdead credit for creating something that made me feel a bit nauseous.  The Hive Mind at the end seriously grossed me out.  I’m not sure if it’s a body horror thing, a blob thing, or the way it moved, but it was very effective.

The musical & sound direction were also spot on.  There’s actually not a lot of “music” in the game, but in its place, we have atmospheric sounds that really help with immersion.  I actually paused the game in the beginning to see if my TV had a headphone jack so I could take in every little sound (sadly, it didn’t).  But again, I think it’s the attention to detail.  Little things like the irregular sound of rain, or that deep booming tone that sounded straight out of Inception, or even how everything goes silent & muted underwater.  Without proper dialogue, everything’s portrayed through noise.  And portrayed effectively.

Overall, shows supberb attention to detail both in terms in visual presentation & ambient sound.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  While this could certainly be a one-&-done game, I think there’s a lot to it that makes it replayable.  For one, it’s fairly short.  I think it took me about three hours.  There’s also an alternate ending that requires you to find all the secret orbs hidden throughout the game.  You can replay from any checkpoint, which is fairly frequent.  And just the mystery of the plot makes it so you’ll want to play again to try to understand it better.  To really take your time & explore to uncover all the mysteries.  Score: 4


Breakdown

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Final Score: 5

Final Word: I didn’t realize until writing this review that I literally have nothing bad to say against Inside, & that’s never happened before, not even with my favorite games.  That fact alone means I can’t help by recommend this game to every gamer.  While the open-ended story might not appeal to everyone, the only people I can really see not finding something to enjoy about Inside are those who only play one specific franchise (like Madden or Call of Duty).

– GamerDame

Title: Inside
Consoles: PS4, PC, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead
Release Date: June 29, 2016

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Filed under 5, PC, Platformer, PS4, Puzzle, Reviews, XBox One