Beholder (PC, IoS, Android)
You’re a State-installed Landlord in a totalitarian State. You must spy on tenants, peep, eavesdrop and profile! You must report on anyone capable of plotting subversion against the State. You MUST! But WILL you?
-You decide what happens
-Unique, dynamic characters
-No decision is easy
-You don't know where you'll end up
November 9, 2016
PC, Mac, Linux (via Steam), Facebook Gameroom, IOS, Android
Developer: Warm Lamp Games
Publisher: Alawar Entertainment
Genre: Adventure, Strategy
Platforms: PC, Mac, IOS, Android
Inspired by dystopian works such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, Beholder places you into a totalitarian state as a landlord, of sorts. You’re tasked with the job of invading the privacy of your tenants in any way possible (without getting caught of course) and reporting any criminal activity you encounter, as the list of “crimes” just keeps getting longer and longer. Centered on player choice, this strategy game jumps from one morally ambiguous situation to another, asking you to pick a side or suffer the consequences.
Beholder shines with very positive reviews on Steam, several awards from the indie world, and a growing presence on several platforms. The IOS and Android version of the game were just recently released in May 2017, as well as the new DLC, Blissful Sleep, which focuses on the landlord that came before you.
Beholder doesn’t contain nor reference spiritual content during gameplay.
The landlord you play as in Beholder is not an outright violent person, but the world around you tends to be violent in the way that a sketchy nation under a sketchy dictator tends to be. There are riots outside the apartments at one point, and at the end of some character’s missions, death and murder may be involved: if a certain sequence of events takes place, two separate characters may commit suicide and two tenants may murder other characters, one in cold blood and the other in self-defense. However, you can play the game in a way that avoids these scenarios entirely. The most violent part of the game is probably the brutal way in which the State Police arrest people after you report them, usually involving physical and verbal abuse from the police to the “criminal” you turned in. However, since the graphics of the game are rather abstract, the violence isn’t really graphic (no blood, bruises, etc.)
I never came across much, if any, foul language during my playing of Beholder.
There is no explicit sexual content in this game. In one mission, you are asked by a nervous husband to see if his wife is cheating (news flash: she totally is) and you are tasked with catching them in the act. Having sex is implied, but nothing is shown; it only takes up a rather small portion of the game screen, and it’s incredibly quick.
One character is an alcoholic and various forms of alcohol are found in people’s rooms, available to be bought or traded for quests, and some of your tenants drink (but there’s no option for you to). It’s a rather small part of the game, however. One tenant is sent to jail due to making drugs. A drug (chemical weapon of sorts) is involved in one of the tenant’s quests, but you’re never directly involved with it or exposed to it.
Beholder centers around a landlord whose whole job is to spy on other people and basically be a snitch. Neither of those are great ideas of things to do in real life. (Don’t get in the habit of installing cameras in others peoples places and snooping through their drawers while they’re away!) Beholder centers around morally ambiguous choices and poses questions surrounding privacy and when being “lawful” isn’t being right. You as the player do have the option to cheat, steal, lie, bribe, deceive, blackmail, manipulate, and incite your tenants against each —but this is in your control and by your discretion for the most part. You could play the game without being a terrible person.
You can choose to play Beholder as a hero. As an ordinary person that’s willing to fight against what they know is wrong, and that’s amazing. You can be a part of a rebellion to fight a government that asks you to invade these people’s lives and you can work very diligently to save your tenants who are in need. The game often rewards you for helping others, saving your family, and putting what is right above what is “required” by the government. A game that highlights the fact that sometimes what is required by law is not always what is right, and showcases effective and (usually) honorable methods of resisting those authorities is important to consider and discuss.
Beholder throws you into the life of Carl Stein, the new State-appointed landlord (of sorts) of your typical apartment building. After the battered previous landlord is dragged away by State Police, you go about your typical landlord-y job, of installing surveillance cameras, being told you must report every little bit of suspicious activity you see, and being modified so that you never need sleep and can watch your tenants noon and night. (Wait… that isn’t the typical landlord?) Well, in this totalitarian government, it is. Privacy is a lie, and you’re allowed to snoop, invade, and investigate any person you want in the name of preserving the State. Naturally, several people aren’t all cheery about this, and the government’s rather unsavory tactics in quelling rebellion don’t make matters any easier for you. You must decide what to do, how to do it, and how to make ends meet.
The main gameplay of Beholder centers around completing tasks given to you by both the Ministry and various tenants (including your own family) by whatever means necessary. The start of the game is always the same as you install those first sets of cameras in the apartments and catch that one bad guy in the act. (ALWAYS click the red, glowing circles people! Either that’s a report or potential blackmail money for you.) However, after that, things are kind of left up to you. You choose when and how to help, hurt, backstab, cheat, manipulate, steal from, spy on, or rescue the ever-flowing stream of tenants that come to reside in your apartment.
The choices you make can influence not only how people leave their place of residence (whether it be voluntary or not, for example) but also can wind up influencing the end status of your family as well as the nation as a whole. You’re given several opportunities to take a side: that could be the side of the State, the side of the rebellion, the side of your family, or the side of money (because your fortune won’t die with you, of course.)
Beholder consists of elements that I’m sure many of us are familiar with: oppressive governments, management-style gameplay, non-linear storylines, morally ambiguous choices. However, while I’ve heard promises of these sorts of elements, Beholder is unique in that it actually delivers a satisfying experience while combining all of them. The choices really do make you think sometimes and you have to weigh the sides —Do I want to protect her? Can I afford to help them out? What will happen if the State finds out? Is blackmailing okay if it gets me money to help my family? The choices you make do actually have a profound impact on the game’s ending and where the game goes.
I’ve played through Beholder several times, but no playthrough has ever been exactly the same due to how the different dominoes fall each time. You really do get a deep sense of satisfaction at the end of the game when you see you’ve played a part in taking down the State or that your family made it through the game all alive.
The totalitarian government, or “the state”, the presides over you feels like a constant presence and incredibly real. They aren’t to be taken lightly and the game’s atmosphere does an amazing job of truly getting across how serious and powerful this government is. It doesn’t feel all to unrealistic, and as you reach the end of the game, you genuinely have no idea what the government is going to do to you if you’ve been sneaking around the law. The way the characters act, think, and talk about the state and the supreme leader were certainly drawn from how real oppressive government impacted people, so the tenants and quests surrounding them feel fitting in the game’s setting. Nothing really feels out of place, except for maybe some of the rather silly things that become illegal.
Beholder can be played in either a beginner’s mode or the original (and harder) mode, both of which give you the same challenges; there are just higher stakes in the original mode. The atmosphere of the game is really amazing with a very fitting soundtrack, well-edited cutscenes, and thoughtful game design. The black blobby characters give the game a unique style and serve to give some rather dark material a less graphic nature while playing. Also, just looking at the title is a part of the game’s design. “Beholder” can be interpreted to stem from the phrase “eye of the beholder.” You as the player are the beholder and you have to decide what’s right and what to report, so it’s all in (say it with me now) the eye of the beholder.
However, this game is by no means perfect and it certainly has downfalls. Not every sort of player is going to enjoy the multitasking or micromanaging involved in this game and some of the actions can seem incredibly repetitive. While none of my playthroughs have been identical, I struggle to play this game all the way through back to back due to the monotony of installing cameras, filling out profiles, talking to the same people each time, etc. If that sort of management doesn’t seem fun to you, you would not enjoy this game. I’m definitely the sort of game player who likes to see all the ends meet up while keeping track of several things to get the job done— it excites me and keeps me engaged, but this may not be you.
The mechanics of the game do take a bit to get used to and there will certainly be times where a split-second mistake means you have to start all over again, which the save system allows for and is quite helpful. Finally, some reviewers on Steam mentioned that a certain level of heartlessness is required to truly master and enjoy this game…and this is kind of true. There is a darkness and grit to this game that requires you to be okay with compromising a bit to be victorious in the long run. But again, how you play is up to you and Beholder excels at allowing room for different methods and motivations to succeed—you just have to learn how to work your angle.
In conclusion, Beholder is an interesting, unique game that begs the question of privacy and what it means to be truly good citizen. Some great discussions could come from this game, and some great playthroughs can be experienced. If this sounds like the sort of gameplay you would enjoy, and for $10? It’s really not that much of a gamble. If you want to test yourself to see what you’ll do in this game’s situations, or just have a solid experience with a different sort of game, it’s a no-brainer that won’t hurt your wallet. (Just… be sure to check your new apartment for surveillance cameras from now on, kay?)
+ Makes you think
+ Excellent replayability
+ Your choices do really matter
+ Unique experience worth playing through
+ Challenging enough to be engaging, but too much to be punishing
- Gameplay can be a tad repetitive
- Situations can be overdramatized at times
- Game mechanics may overwhelm some players