Some games are just better on mobile — even if they don't start out that way. When the spaceship strategy game FTL: Faster Than Light moved from PC to iPad it rekindled my love of exploring the galaxy, and the tablet port of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is just about the biggest drain on my productivity yet. You can now add Papers, Please to that list. The game, which debuted on PC and Mac last year, launches on iPad today, and the new format fits it perfectly. Unfortunately, thanks to Apple's strict censorship policy for games in the App Store, it's not exactly the same game you played last year.
The core of the experience remains the same. You play as an immigration officer in the fictional Eastern European country of Arstotzka during the early 1980s. People will come to your desk, and you'll need to examine their passport and other paperwork to see if they're allowed to enter the country. The trick is, the rules change every day, so you'll need to keep a close eye on exactly what's required. It's a bit like detective work, and it can be pretty satisfying to spot a discrepancy and then call someone on it.
"My goal isn't to make a political statement."
But there's also an interesting contrast between the entertaining game mechanics and what you're actually doing. These are people, after all, some fleeing war-torn countries in order to stay alive or be with their families. Should you keep a mother away from her son just because she brought the wrong form? Or let a dangerous criminal in because he has the right one? There are a lot of judgement calls and moral grey areas, and they help make Papers, Please an often poignant experience — even if creator Lucas Pope didn't necessarily intend it that way. "Although there are political elements in the game," he told The Verge last year, "my goal isn't to make a political statement."
The simple interface of Papers, Please feels right at home on iPad. Playing the game in portrait mode just makes more sense, and the touchscreen is perfect for shuffling through papers and pointing out contradictions. It's also an easy game to play in short bursts, as the in-game days only last a few minutes each, making it a good fit for a mobile device.
There's one other key difference, though. In the original, you'd eventually gain access to an x-ray scanner, that let you see potential immigrants in all their naked, pixelated glory; now you'll see them in their underwear instead. The nudity was a great way to emphasize just how demeaning this kind of experience can be, but according to Pope, it also caused the game to be rejected from the App Store initially. "The iPad version has no full nudity option for the search scanner photos," he explained on Twitter. "Apple rejected that build for containing 'pornographic content.'" (Apple has since clarified that the build was rejected due to a "misunderstanding." A new version of the game, complete with nudity, is expected to launch next week.)
"I think it has a chance on appeal."
It's no secret that Apple treats games — which it considers apps — different from other forms of media, often rejecting them for broaching subjects like sex or real-world conflicts. "If you want to criticize a religion, write a book," the company explains in its review guidelines. "If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store."
Not having the complete version of the game is disappointing, if not surprising, but Papers, Please is still best on iPad. The format just works so well that it's worth the tradeoff. Pope, in the meantime, seems surprisingly unperturbed about the situation. "The game has always had a no-nudity option because I understand some people have a visceral problem with nakedness, even when it's cartoonish and low-resolution," he tells The Verge. "Above most things, I'm practical. Seeing entrants in their underwear is still pretty invasive so the intended effect is there, just a little weaker."
He also seems relatively hopeful that Apple can eventually be convinced, saying that "I think it has a chance on appeal." You can grab it now from the App Store.