We often criticise bad games for feeling too much like monotonous work, but Papers, Please looks, feels, and plays like monotonous work - and it's fantastic.

More than that, it's a rare game that actually makes you feel things beyond the usual emotional gamut of the medium.

Halt! Who goes there?

You're the border guard of a fictional totalitarian eastern European state in the early '80s.

As set-ups go, it's already pretty promising, isn't it? But what ensues isn't a cold war spy game. There are no rooftop chases, assassination missions, or tense stealth sections.

There is only the depressing and increasingly absurd trudge of bureaucracy.

All that other stuff - the intrigue, the grim characters, the heroism - that all happens around you. You're just a poor schmuck trying to pay his rent and keep his family fed.

Guess who?

By this point, you might be thinking that Papers, Please is about as appealing a prospect as Saturday night TV. It might be as depressing in many ways, but there is plenty of fun to be had here.

Playing like an amalgam of Guess Who, spot the difference, and one of those task-juggling time management games we used to play before mobile games got good, its up to you to check through the paperwork of an endless line of returning natives, migrant workers, holiday-makers, and other visitors.

You need to check that all of the information in their passports, work permits, and other documentation matches up. Is it all in date? Does the face before you match the ID photo?

If not, you must use your analysing tool to point out the discrepancy, interrogate the accused, and - typically - bring down your big red 'Denied' stamp. You might even have the option to forcibly eject them.

Much more than just pushing paper

The complexity of your job increases as you progress, and as new side-tasks are introduced. There may be a terrorist attack from a neighbouring state that not only ends your working day early (leaving you with a lower wage), but adds a further layer of authentication on subsequent days.

You may need to obtain fingerprints to check that a person is who they say they are, or to initiate a full-body scan (you can now turn nudity on or off from the options menu).

You might be asked to bend the rules in some way for either personal gain or moral reasons, and with a couple of slip-ups allowed before you're charged, it's within your power to do so.

But at the end of each day, you've got to apportion your meagre income to your extended family's well-being, including heating, food, and medicine. And there's never quite enough money to go around at the best of times.

Bordering on perfection

This constant tug between personal, moral, and political issues might sound weighty, but it never gets in the way of Papers, Please as a mobile game.

It's challenging and repetitive, but surprisingly light and easy to pick up and play. That's aided by a low-res 8-bit art style that's perfectly in keeping with the period, not to mention highly functional.

Papers, Please is a conversion of a PC game, but you wouldn't know it. It feels perfectly at home on iPad. You might find juggling the constantly-multiplying bits of paper and card and rule books and interrogation gizmos a bit fiddly and unwieldy, but that's kind of the point.

Papers, Please is compelling, thought-provoking, challenging, occasionally funny and frequently surprising. It's also a very late contender for the best mobile game of the year.