Tag Archives: indie games

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: The Fall

For some reason, science fiction has never really interested me as a genre.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s a reflection of my pessimistic nature — I fully expect we’ll have killed each other out of pettiness or overpopulation long before space travel becomes a thing.  Maybe that’s why, when I do decide to check out a sci-fi game, it’s usually of a dark or dystopian nature.  Something that illustrates a potential danger if we don’t keep ourselves in check.  I think that’s why the trailer for Over the Moon Games’ The Fall caught my attention.

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In The Fall we take the role of the artificial intelligence program ARID (Autonomous Robotic Interface Device) after crashing on an unknown planet knocks her human “pilot” unconscious.  ARID’s programing requires her to protect the pilot of the combat suit she inhabits, & thus she begins to search for a means to save them in the rundown factory they’ve mysteriously landed on while dealing with droids a bit too invested in following their programing to the letter.  In the end, the player will find themselves questioning if the enemies are the ones who have gone crazy, or if ARID has.

The Fall is best described as a side-scrolling puzzle/adventure game with a touch of combat thrown in.  For the majority of the game, you’ll be trying to find ways to overcome the next obstacle standing between ARID & the medical facility she’s ultimately trying to reach.  But as she progresses & continues to show signs of aberrant behavior, you’ll have to contend with the facility’s defense droids in short shooting sections.  However, these sections play out on a slower place, with ARID hiding behind cover or using her cloaking program to wait for the right moment to pop the droids in the head.


20170130175245_1Narrative: Although short & ending somewhat on a cliffhanger, obviously setting up for the next chapter of the game still in development, I felt that The Fall had a tightly contained, complete story arc.  While getting help for the pilot is ultimately the main goal of the game, the story focused less on that & more on ARID’s evolution in sentience.  As an AI, there’s obviously a rigidity to the way ARID thinks & problem solves, which in turn puts her at odds with the AIs in the facility who are blocking her from her prime directive.  I appreciated that it wasn’t your standard rogue AI story like I expected in the beginning.  None of the three personalities in the game have gone “crazy”, per se, as it is them following their programing to the most logical, if extreme, conclusion.  Their outcomes are all understandable, even predictable.  ARID, for instance, is understandably frustrated when she has to appease the domestic droid protocols to receive clearance to reach the medical facility to save her pilot.  Not only does this hinder her prime directive (the very thing she was programmed to do), but as a combat unit she isn’t “made” to carry out such menial tasks.  It’s an interesting evolution in her psyche where she has to learn behaviors that aren’t things AIs are supposed to do (such as lie).  In a way, The Fall illustrates the potential pitfalls of relying on AIs without beating us over the head with it.

And in the end, we get a nice conclusion to this part of ARID’s story even while it sets up intrigue for the next chapter.

Overall, while short, The Fall has an interesting classic sci-fi story that maintains a tight, contained focus on its story & characters.

Score: 4


HeadShotAimingMechanics: Overall, I felt The Fall’s controls were simple & effective.  Right Mouse Button pulls up the aiming mode, where you can switch between the flashlight (explore) or the target sight (for shooting).  It was easy to aim at enemies or places in the environment, although I did notice when I would enter aim mode the direction would frequently default to the right regardless of which direction I’d previously been facing.  I’m also not a huge fan of having to hold down the buttons to stay in aim mode, but I didn’t see an option to change it to toggle.  However, this is more a personal preference than one that affected gameplay, as the combat was slow enough that I didn’t have a problem aiming while holding down the mouse buttons.

Cycling through the inventory was simple.  However, I didn’t really care for having to be in aim mode to interact with the environment.  I also frequently got stuck behind cover.  I’m not sure if this was a game problem or an error on my part, but I found rather than pushing E again exit cover, I’d have to move in the opposite direction to exit.  As with the aiming, it was more an annoyance than a problem.

Being a puzzle game, I found the puzzles generally interesting, & many of the solutions very amusing.  The game definitely has a dark sense of humor at times.  For example, a big portion of the game is ARID having to achieve merits to reach the medical facility by acting like a “proper” domestic droid & doing chores around a fake house & community.  A few of my favorite solutions were offering a rotting human head (stolen from a giant slug) to a child as a protein-packed meal, quieting a crying baby by sucking them into the vents, & attaching a cable between a tire axle & a flying jenny which resulted in sending the child flying into the distance.  At times the solutions seemed pretty opaque, but I found that if I explored as much of the area as I could, picking up everything & trying each combination, I would find something that made sense.  You can’t use the wrong item.  I never felt completely stuck.

Overall, while I had some personal issues with the control scheme, the controls were well implemented with some fun puzzling.

Score: 4


20170515134755_1Aesthetics: I thought The Fall had a very nice, bleak presentation that suited the themes & setting excellently.  I think the lighting is the best part, helping to cast an eerie glow over the levels.  The entire game just felt creepy to run through.  Those cardboard cutout people were the worst.  Even though the player can only operate on a 2D plane, the backgrounds really gave a sense of depth an ambiance.  I felt the sound designs was well-done, as well, mostly sticking this slow, droning tone suited for an old, crumbling factory, but occasionally picking up with some techno music during the brief fight scenes.  The voiceacting, for all three characters in the game, were well realized & portrayed.

Score: 4


Replay Value: Average.  While nothing in the story itself really changes, there are different options a player can take, such as letting the Caretaker live or not, or deliberately failing the tests.  And once you know the puzzle solutions, The Fall is a fairly short game, clocking in at a few hours, making a second playthrough conceivable.

Score: 3


Breakdown

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Final Score: 4

Final Word: Though a bit on the short side, & ending on a “To Be Continued…”, The Fall is a fun little indie sci-fi game that takes a focused, measured look at the potentiality of AIs & the troubles such programs might pose.  Personally, the regular price is a bit high for the length for my tastes, but if you can snag it on sale I definitely recommend checking it out.

– GamerDame

Title: The Fall
Consoles: PC, Wii U, PS4, XB1
Rating: T
Developer: Over the Moon Games
Publisher: Over the Moon Games
Release Date: May 30, 2014

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Filed under 4, Indie, PC, PS4, Reviews, Wii U, XBox One