I have a soft spot for interpretations of the afterlife, especially those subverting traditional imagery of hell. So, if you’re reading this and thinking “Rad-Lands, you pinnacle of post-apocalyptic perfection, why are you talking about a game that has nothing to do with sandy deserts or radiation?” the answer is because Peace, Death is about general apocalyptic motifs, contains parodies of Mad-Max and Fallout characters, and it’s pretty fun.
Here’s the premise: You are a reaper, one of billions living in the underworld. You can’t afford food, so you start working at Apocalypse Inc. as a customer service rep. Your boss is Death. The other three horsemen of the apocalypse are always plotting against him, sometimes inviting you to help in their schemes. On the factory floor, you have the simple job of deciding if a person goes to heaven, hell, or purgatory based on their face and personal effects.
Game design is essentially a simplified version of Papers, Please with a few minigames mixed in to shake things up. Every day you learn that something is sinful or that giving it up can pave the way to purgatory. Practically, it means every time a character shows up, you click their hat, glasses, items, and blood stains; if one of them doesn’t go away, they go to hell.
That’s really all there is to it. You judge 30-50 people per session, solve a few puzzles and twitch minigames, and use your money to either avoid making the other horsemen of the apocalypse more powerful or make the next stage easier. Unlike Papers, Please, Peace, Death doesn’t have an overarching story. Events between the four horsemen of the apocalypse just happen with insignificant consequence.
That’s not to say Peace, Death doesn’t have some fun ideas. A big source of the comedy comes from an implication that all timelines in all conceivable dimensions are happening at the same time. So, in one universe Famine and Pestilence team up to make all food donuts, then make people allergic to donuts. Death then asks you if you’d be willing to save this entire universe by paying 100 skulls to turn everyone into spiders because spiders don’t eat donuts. That’s fun, it’s cute, and you’ll see many events like it throughout the game.
Unfortunately, we really can’t avoid the fact that this is no Papers, Please. Though Peace, Death is purposely silly, its gameplay lacks the depth of its spiritual predecessor. In Papers, Please the timer meant something. Every day you had a functionally endless line of people trying to enter your country. It was impossible to serve them all, but you were paid based on how many people were processed and how few mistakes you made in a single day. Events outside of work provided an ever-increasing need for more funds. If you cut corners or memorized content, you had a better chance of providing for your family. This made every decision in Papers, Please a moral decision, forcing you to choose between your family and increasingly desperate sob stories from incoming immigrants.
In Peace, Death the timer doesn’t matter, you have a set number of people to process each day. On top of that, currency only exists to make the game easier. For a pittance of skull tokens, you can turn off a random negative quirks and activate positive quirks. In between, Death will ask you to foil the plans of his competitors, but it doesn’t really matter. I decided to play through the entire game without ever helping Death but always helping his competitors. As a result, nothing happened. By the end of the game, I had over 700 skull tokens and Death was still 3x more powerful than the next leading horseman. In Peace, Death, your choices don’t matter, they’re just a framing device for an arbitrary point race that Death will always win. Plus, the choices you make have no bearing on the game. If you turn an entire universe of people into spiders, you never see those spiders. If nothing outside the gameplay itself matters, then the gameplay better be really good, right?
The gameplay is pretty fun, at first. You’ll be visited by a frankly huge variety of characters from Conan to Einstein, Shrek to space marines, politicians, Youtubers, and odd movie references. Gameplay is kept fresh by adding new rules every day and a new minigame every week. It works surprisingly well, despite that we’re really just clicking bloodstains and pressing A,S,D. You may remember that the story has no bearing on your overall goal or decisions and likewise, gameplay doesn’t either. Unlike Papers, Please, you have a set number of people to process with a time limit, meaning there’s a maximum number of skull tokens per day.
Although you get an overall report card at the end of the game which lists every single one of your failures, there’s no incentive to go faster, cut corners, or make exceptions. The one odd thing is if you correctly subvert your immediate reaction to take part in a pop culture reference (saving John Connor from the Terminator, for example) that is taken into account at the very end of the game. However, these events are random and their bonus is insignificant. Everything that made Papers, Please a unique and biting experience isn’t present in Peace, Death and frankly the game is weaker for it.
Because there’s a limited number of recognizable character models, you’ll see the same people hundreds of times. They don’t ask you to make exceptions, most of them just yell at you. There’s no reason to consider them. If Papers, Please made you feel the emotional weight of being a cog in a totalitarian system, then Peace, Death makes you feel like you’re filing endless paperwork at the office. If you liked the TPS report scenes in Office Space, you’ll probably like Peace, Death.
Recently, the developers of Peace, Death have added an extended mode after the initial 49 days where you effectively work forever without a goal while upgrading your apartment. This only adds a few new character sprites and an infinite gameplay mode, but it all proves hollow and meaningless. For example, you can continue to work past the overtime clock in this mode if you stock up your fridge. You can increase your fridge supply by paying a small fee to get a portal from Rick and Morty to increase food drops. Why is there a Rick and Morty meme in a game about apocalyptic judgement? Because Rick and Morty…do you get it? Do you get the joke? They did a meme. Wubba Lubba Dub Dub.
So what makes this game post-apocalyptic? Well, on the very last day of the game, the apocalypse happens. Mad Max and Fallout characters come pouring in. Yeah, it’s a vain connection to post-nuclear fiction at best, but it’s something. Despite all my bellyaching, I actually think Peace, Death is charming, short, and fun. It may not be as in depth as Papers, Please, but it might make you laugh. Besides, who said the apocalypse always has to be dark and grim anyway?