Think back to the world George Orwell dreamed up in 1984. Every move is watched, every action noted. Arbitrary laws pile up while citizens lose track of what is allowed and what is outlawed, let alone who can be trusted. In Beholder, you (the player) can decide to be an instrument of the totalitarian machine or subvert it. Whatever your ends might be, remember the tagline: Every choice has a consequence.
The player controls Carl Stein, new landlord of Apartment Block Krushvice 6. Carl and his family have moved into the basement of the dilapidated building. The opening animation shows a chilling scene where Carl’s predecessor is being viciously beaten by police officers and then led out of the complex. The price of failure is clear.
Art and ambience are one of the first things noticed about a game. Beholder does not disappoint there, utilizing a minimal palette of grays and browns to emphasize the dreary conditions and hopelessness of the population. A constant drizzle of rain serves as the only weather throughout your playthrough. Character models are simple but distinctive, as are their animations.
After a quick tutorial, you can dive right into the meat of the game. The tutorial could benefit from some additional introductory tasks, if only to reduce some frustration. Beholder is not meant to take days to reach the end. Things get serious very quick, and balancing the various tenant requests and your own family’s needs starts to feel like spinning plates. At its core, Beholder is about maintaining your two resources: money and reputation. Run out of either one, and it is game over. Money is used for things like apartment repairs, paying utilities, or even buying medical treatment for your child. Reputation can be used to buy additional surveillance cameras for your apartments, but also you can use your authority to convince people to do what you want.
Carl periodically receives directives from the Ministry of Allocation via a phone in his office. Directly opposed to the Ministry is a rebel organization called the New Tomorrow. Both parties want to use Carl, and both parties believe their ends justify the means. He has even been injected with sleep-suppressing drugs so that he can watch his tenants 24/7. Tenants are spied on through the placement of surveillance cameras in their apartment, by looking through the keyhole of the door, and through rifling through their belongings while they are out.
Anything Carl finds, whether it is behavior observed or objects found in the apartment, can be filed away. Profiling a tenant and feeding information to the Ministry about them nets Carl a bit of cash. As time passes, more and more government directives trickle in, banning anything from apples to anti-government propaganda. As more things are outlawed, Carl has more leverage to use on his tenants in order to blackmail them for more cash or to even evict them. And that is just the beginning. Beholder makes it all too easy to screw over everyone that enters the Krushvice 6. However, making enemies out of every character will bring Carl’s career (and possibly life) to a swift end.
The player will quickly learn that just because you can do something, does not mean that you should. The cast of characters that move through Carl’s Apartment Block are wildly varied, and most are interesting enough to stay invested in their stories. Some tenants are nicer than others, and it is those tenants that tug at your heartstrings when the Ministry forces you to “get rid of them.” You evict tenants by reporting them for violating the law (you can even go as far as planting “evidence” into their apartment), but the eviction process involves a brutal beatdown and arrest.
That being said, there is usually more than one way around a problem. Beholder encourages trying everything, talking to everyone, and solving a problem creatively. Do you need to get a tenant out of your apartment but don’t want to arrest them? Have them leave the country, on your dollar. But before you can do that, you have to help out your other tenant that can make the arrangements. And maybe, to convince him to help you out, you have to do something illegal.
Beholder reminds me of an extended macabre Groundhog Day. The first playthrough is rough, many mistakes are made, and even deeds with good intentions can (and will) end poorly. People die despite your best efforts. And then you fire up the game and try again, and again, and again.
At this point I have done a number of playthroughs, all of which have ended in unexpected ways, from losing my family, to lying dead in the street (several times), to having my building blow up, and even something so shocking it would be a spoiler to include it.
To conclude, Beholder is a wonderful game that takes a simple premise and spins a tale of a country’s struggling populace. Gameplay, while not completely intuitive, is engaging and keeps you coming back to try something new. At the end of the day, your actions in your Apartment Block will ripple through your country one way or another. When the stakes are this high, remember: every choice has a consequence.
I give Beholder an 8/10 because it delivers on its promise. Many games give you choices, but few have actual quantifiable consequences. The visuals and audio complement the dystopian setting, creating the whole package. I have some complaints about the mechanics not being fully explained in the tutorial, or important points being glossed over. It can get frustrating to try to figure out what should have been basic information, but that shouldn’t scare anyone away. Warm Lamp Games has created an engaging and rewarding style of gameplay that always leaves you wondering what could happen next.
Check out Beholder on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/475550/