Police Against Contraband Review: What if Papers, Please had a gun?

I’m a loyal border agent in contraband police, and I serve as the last line of defense between the great nation of Acaristan and the infamous smugglers and arms dealers. I’m given a few simple tools, like a folder full of regulations, a flashlight, a clipboard, and perhaps most handy of all, a gun. It’s kinda like indie honey papers pleaseexcept that sometimes I have to leave my post to lay down the law and shoot criminals.

contraband police is a bit janky but deeply compelling, and the game is a surprise hit on Steam. It’s the 1980s and I’m starting my new job as a border agent in a Soviet-style totalitarian state. My corrupt predecessor was fired from his job and my new co-workers suck. I have to open the trunk and the hood of a car, look for cigarettes in the grille and discover ceramic chickens stuffed with drugs. Meanwhile, my colleagues enjoy a nice cigarette break.

It’s the kind of game where it’s easy to fall into a runaway state. I wake up in my tiny motorhome to find a line of cars waiting to enter the border. I call them, one by one, and check the driver’s papers to make sure they comply with the regulations. The game likes to throw curveballs at me when I’m most comfortable – a guy can go past the border crossing and into Acaristan, and I have to sprint to my official work truck and chase them. Or a band of rebels might ambush my post, and my colleagues will finally come in handy as the border crossing becomes a battlefield.

Image: CrazyRocks/PlayWay SA

That’s why I have the most powerful administrative tool of all: a gun. I start with a humble service pistol, but can evolve over the campaign to shotguns, submachine guns, and sniper rifles. It ends up being somewhat debatable, as I find that the real art of boundary enforcement, for a professional gamer anyway, is to run up to a guy and aggressively poke him with a pitchfork or shovel until what he collapses silently.

contraband police also sometimes takes me away from my post. My superiors may call me to help with an urgent matter, and I need to track down a known rebel through the dark woods or investigate a local murder. Sometimes I have to drag all the smugglers I caught to the local labor camp, where they can make up for their crime of having a flask in their car by mining for ore without pay. All this seems very moral and normal!

The game’s shooting and driving mechanics are very loose, and as long as you occasionally hide in some sort of cover, you’ll rarely lose a conflict. But that’s not the real meat of the game either; it’s a side dish to the main course of making stops at the border.

Sometimes when I’m dealing with a guy’s documents, he can tell me a bloody story. “Oh no, my beloved is in Arcaristan, and he is in mortal danger!” or “If you don’t let me through, a bunch of kids will die in a terrible mining accident!” Should I let them pass and take a fine from my superiors? It will give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, but I also have to pay all the bills here, and my Soviet superiors don’t want me to go into debt.

Image: Crazy Rocks/PlayWay SA

I also have to pay to upgrade all my stuff, and I’m not exactly earning a competitive salary. Therefore, I’m encouraged to really scrutinize everyone’s vehicles with a fine-toothed comb. It’s oddly soothing to sweep a guy’s car and look for hidden goodies, like cigarettes or cocaine. Sometimes people offer me a bribe, which I don’t accept. It is far too easy to get caught and penalized. But no one cares if I trade contraband with other drivers. I have a nice little scramble, because it is important to diversify the sources of income. With enough work, I can turn my little RV into a cute house with a tin tub for bathing in and some state-approved posters!

The game currently has a campaign that takes place over a month in the game, and the player is periodically presented with choices – do they remain loyal to the glorious Acaristan, or do they shed their chains and choose to be a man of the interior for the rebellion? Developer Crazy Rocks is working on an endless mode with more paperwork and police ranks, which I’m looking forward to. The campaign can be completed in a few sittings, and it’s peppered with fun choices – but I’m hungry to keep checking for contraband.

contraband police is available on Steam for $16.99 (was $19.99). The game has since garnered over 4,000 average “Very Positive” reviews and sold over 250,000 copies.

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