Reviews - Updated on April 11, 2022

Just the other day came out black-and-white adventure Return of the Obra Dinn, the second work of Lucas Pope (Lucas Pope), author of the already cult Papers, Please. And this year, the premiere of the film Beholder will take place, based on the domestic game of the same name, one of the reference points for which was Papers, Please. All this gives us a reason to remember these and other acutely social games in which there is always a choice – to remain freaks or people.

Papers, Please

This game may initially seem like a simulator of an employee of the passport and visa department, but in fact we have a simulator of a “little man”, a cog in a large state-bureaucratic machine. It is both a production novel in the spirit of Arthur Haley’s Airport, an anti-bureaucratic satire reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s The Castle, and, of course, a playful version of George Orwell’s 1984.

The action takes place in the fictional totalitarian state of Arstotzka, which, after the war with neighboring Kolechia, shared the border town of Grespin with it. In the role of an inspector of the passport and visa department of the local “Berlin Wall”, we sit in our closet for the whole game, rummaging through documents, checking numbers, photos and data, and personally deciding who to give permission to enter Arstotzka and who not.

It seems to be an important work, a lot depends on our decisions. But in fact, the hero here is Akaki Akakievich, a forced man who does not even have the right to put a photo of his son on the desktop. In an atmosphere of wholesale denunciation and hunting for “enemies of the people”, he works for a huge bureaucratic machine that will grind him to powder for any oversight. And you have to work to feed your family. As in real life, in Papers, Please it is much easier to live and act according to the principle “my hut is on the edge”, regularly submitting reports, receiving a salary, turning a blind eye to the pleas of a mother who asks to let her through the other side of the wall to see the sick son, and so on.

But you can try and not be a freak – help, break instructions, show compassion, risking the safety of your family, and even side with local revolutionaries. All of these choices unlock one of 20 possible endings. Most often, attempts to do something against the rules lead to “game over”, but here it is important that the game, in principle, gives this choice and allows everyone to ask themselves the question: are you a trembling creature, ready for the sake of the survival of your family to quietly take kickbacks from escorts for of each arrested through your fault, or do you have the right?

About freaks and people - Papers, Please and five more acutely social games

When checking passport data, you need to pay attention even to weight in order to detect contraband or hidden weapons.

Do Not Feed the Monkeys

What does the monkey have to do with it and why can’t they be fed, you ask? In fact, the monkeys really have nothing to do with this game – that’s what they call the people that the player must follow. After all, Do Not Feed the Monkeys is a unique “voyeur” simulator of its kind. But this is not what you are thinking about now, everything is much more complicated.

The authors here depict an uncomfortable society where an economic crisis reigns, domestic violence and sex are shown on prime-time television for a fee, and workers, after deducting all fees and interest, are still indebted. We play as a newcomer to the Primate Study Club, a secret organization whose members, in an effort to get away from the routine of such an ordinary life and its existential longing, amuse themselves by spying on strangers through the lenses of hidden cameras for days on end.

And you can’t feed the “monkeys” because club members are forbidden to contact their victims. There is such an opportunity here, but we are warned several times that in this case a “fierce tin” will begin. What, of course, makes this forbidden fruit only sweeter – the game has a rating of 18+. As a result, again, there is a difficult choice: to substitute, help, destroy other people’s lives, or, on the contrary, save them from something terrible?

However, there is much to be done before that. You have to regularly feed your “voyeur”, go to work (money is needed to buy new cameras, otherwise they will be kicked out of the club), take time to sleep and even conduct investigations, finding out the identity and scope of your “monkey”. To do this, you need to find keywords, and then drive them (or combinations of two words) into the local Internet. At the same time, the authors have everything in order with a sense of humor and irony – the first thing to do is to follow those who follow others …

About freaks and people - Papers, Please and five more acutely social games

Even before the release of Do Not Feed the Monkeys, it garnered numerous awards at festivals and independent games exhibitions.

Beholder

Beholder is in many ways similar to Do Not Feed the Monkeys, and the publisher of both projects is the same – the domestic company Alawar Premium. We play as a house manager who secretly installs video cameras and bugs to keep an eye on the residents. And then he searches their apartments (again, secretly, of course) and collects compromising evidence. All this is in order to identify unreliable citizens and stop their illegal activities. After all, the action of Beholder takes place in a gloomy totalitarian future – repressive laws, total surveillance and stuff like that.

That is, our building manager is forced to follow and knock against his will – he is obliged to report all violations so that next time he himself does not become a sad passenger of the “black funnel”. Yes, and you have to feed your family, buy expensive medicines for your daughter, pay for your son’s studies. And where to get the money for this?

However, the game gives the right to choose whether to turn into a soulless tool in the hands of a totalitarian machine or remain human. You yourself decide what to do in every situation – to report, for example, to the head of the family and destroy the family, to allow him to correct himself or to blackmail him in order to earn money for medicines. You can even help the revolutionaries if you wish. It is from decisions like these that the finale of the story is formed.

The game turned out to be interesting, unusual and emotional, even a film of the same name was shot with Evgeny Stychkin in the title role. And the sequel, Beholder 2, should be released soon – there we will play as a young employee of the main ministry of the country, deciding how to build our career.

About freaks and people - Papers, Please and five more acutely social games

The atmosphere in Beholder is very heavy.

Headliner NoviNews

Another acute social simulator, this time a news editor. Headliner NoviNews takes place in the world of the future, where people are genetically corrected and modified even before birth. However, this did not save society from typical modern problems. The main of them, the authors of Headliner NoviNews, apparently, consider everything related to globalization, immigrants and xenophobia – in general, a typical set of fetishes for any modern Western media.

We play as a newspaper editor who decides which news to pass and approve, and which not. And all this has its consequences. It is clear, after all, that if you skip a note about a crime in which an immigrant is suspected, then this will further inflate the “right” mood in society. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we regularly communicate with an immigrant colleague and an immigrant sales assistant in the store where we go shopping.

However, Headliner NoviNews allows you to act and speak in different ways, without being locked into predetermined limits. And yes, it raises different questions. Should the press remain independent of the authorities? Does society need a strong leader? Plus, typical cyberpunk topics – is it worth it to regularly post notes about the scale of the epidemic caused by massive genetic modifications, write or not about what a good substitute for alcohol was brought to the market (and in fact it is a drug). And then, communicating with a friend, a participant in comedy shows, we can either support his addiction to this “pseudo-alcohol” or ask him to “not get carried away.”

And all this – in an atmosphere of stylish neon cyberpunk with chic electronic music, the opportunity to flirt with colleagues and get yourself a cute dog, genetically modified so that he was immediately accustomed to the tray and ate only chocolates …

About freaks and people - Papers, Please and five more acutely social games

It seems that another typical cyberpunk theme is brewing.

Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You

The whole game, as the name already implies, is imbued with the spirit of the novel “1984”. Here we’re acting as the operator of the government’s latest citizen control program – that’s what it’s called, of course, Orwell. Our task is to identify those who will arrange a terrorist attack on the capital of the Nation.

To do this, you can not just invade privacy, but actually experience it – it is allowed to hack the email and even the computer of any citizen, view his profiles on different sites, blogs, chat, comments on social networks and even a medical record.

But what to do with the information received, you already decide for yourself. Some things can be focused on, some things can be ignored. Are these people really terrorists? But what to do if you find out about a person what he hides even from his closest and loved ones? It is from the decisions of the player in Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You that the fate of the people whose privacy he invaded depends. And, of course, sooner or later the time will come to throw off the covers in order to find out the real price of the security that the Nation cares about.

In the second season, Orwell: Ignorance is Strength, things are somewhat reminiscent of the aforementioned Headliner. Trying to find the causes and perpetrators of a large-scale political crisis, we, as an agent of the secret government service Orwell, do not just collect information, revealing where the truth is and where the lie is, we also decide for ourselves how to manipulate this information and what version of the truth to create in order to get more influence, control and power.

About freaks and people - Papers, Please and five more acutely social games

Big Brother is watching everyone!

The Westport Independent

Another game about journalism, but in The Westport Independent we take on the role of an independent newspaper editor in a fictional post-war city. He wants not to manipulate and lie, but simply to survive, maneuvering between two fires – the government of the loyalists and the opposition.

Each of the parties presses in one way or another, and the player needs to edit articles in such a way as to find a fragile compromise between the interests of different groups and at the same time increase the popularity of the newspaper. The situation is almost a stalemate – you can’t lie, and it’s dangerous to tell the whole truth. We have to get out in every possible way and show the wonders of journalistic tightrope walking. All your actions affect relationships with employees who discuss what is happening both with the editor and behind his back.

The most interesting thing is that decisions are reflected in public opinion – it affects what is happening in the city, and this, in turn, shapes what stories will unfold in it and what articles we will eventually get for editing. Here is such a cycle of truth and lies (as well as half-truths and half-lies) in nature!

About freaks and people - Papers, Please and five more acutely social games

Censor at work.

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