A dystopian, Orwellian country. Your every move is tracked, every action watched and every word recorded. One wrong move against the oppressive regime and you will find yourself in a cell, or worse. A grim facade of patriotism hiding fear and hatred. Honestly, it’s a fairly average game setting these days. However, Beholder does something relatively rare it puts you on the side of the state and in an even rarer move for games makes you a small and insignificant cog in the machine. In a sea of power, fantasy fuelled shooting galleries and heroic world saving it make for a breath of fresh air. This setting is by no means unique (playing it instantly brings to mind the indie hit Papers Please) but it remains an underexplored idea.
You play as the newly instated landlord of a rundown mid-sized apartment complex in an industrial city near “The Capital” it is your business to know everyone else’s business. The meat of the game comes from spying on your tenants through surveillance cameras, conversation, and good old fashioned breaking into their house and rooting through all their stuff. This allows you to create profiles to send to the government and find illegal activities to report to the correct authorities who will bring down swift and brutal justice.
This is of course not as simple as it sounds. Every tenant has their own life and circumstance and you must balance the increasingly strict and bizarre directives of the state (why does fish get banned???) and your own conscience. To add to this you have your own family to care for and this as you imagine, thanks to an ill daughter and wayward son, is very expensive. Blackmail, subterfuge, and brutality are all options open to you, maybe you’ll even decide to try and help bring down the state?
The game plays fantastically, the decisions you have to make are not always straight forward and the characterisation can make screwing over tenants for your own goals genuinely difficult. Whilst the core loop of breaking and spying isn’t itself too difficult how best to use that information and knowing what to pursue can be very tricky. The aesthetic and tone are (for my money at least) better than that of Papers Please, it manages to remain grim and oppressive without being as visually ugly and having obtuse controls.
There are only two real complaints I have about Beholder. The first is that replaying the game gets repetitive quickly. There are plenty of choices to make but to reach them can take a significant amount of time of playing through the same scenario. You may already know items you need or where to find evidence. Sure there is an aspect of improving a ‘run’ through this and you may choose to try and find alternative solutions but after only a few runs this does start to wear thin. The other is that almost every single time I lost the game it was an unexpected and unavoidable event. For example (and minor spoilers ahead) my Son wanted to leave the country but needed $10’000 to do so. Now I had just used every trick in my book to scrape together the $15’000 I had needed to buy medicine to stop my daughter from dying. So with a relatively short deadline and no way of getting that kind of money together I let him run off without money. My own balance was sat at just under $3000 when I suddenly receive an emergency call from the government office. I answer it to find out my son tried to rob a bank and I’m being fined $5000. I become bankrupt and lose instantly. This exact thing happened to me multiple times for a number of reasons and caused me to lose the game in a way I felt was very unfair and it got me very frustrated.
All in all, I think Beholder is great, there are a few mechanical niggles which mean I probably won’t play it over and over but I’d certainly recommend playing it through at least a couple of times. If you were a fan of Papers Please then you’re sure to like this and personally, I’d say it’s even better.
Disclaimer: The review key for this product was provided free of charge.