Beholder was released on Steam in 2016, it has now been ported to Switch along with the DLC package Blissful Sleep. You take on the role of Carl, a man living under a 1984-esque totalitarian regime. As the landlord of a job of some government flats, Carl is responsible for monitoring the residents and ensuring they aren’t breaking any of the increasing bizarre laws. Beholder mixes emotional dialogue-driven stories with a management sim, this forms a package that’s impactful and relatively fun to play.
The title delights in it’s oppressive subject matter. Even the design reflects this, people are solid silhouettes with only eyes and the occasional splash in the form of a pipe or some hair to distinguish them. For a game about robbing innocent people of all sense of privacy in a crusade against personal freedom,Beholder still manages to shock with the dark stories of each character.
Gameplay is a mix of Papers Please and Fallout Shelter, but the heart of Beholderis the personal stories of each of the tenants. It centres around a constant stream of moral choices. These choices don’t begin and end with the decision to report the tenant breaking a silly law. Each character has a unique backstory and motivation, you can choose to help them or leave them to their fate. While this is sometimes more personal than political, Carl has his fair share of dealings with revolutionaries.
On arriving for his new job, Carl witnesses the last occupier of this post being dragged out thoroughly beaten. His fate is to spend life in prison, and it’s likely the fate that awaits you barring some sort of miracle. From there you’re set to your task of spying on each resident. At first what each person does will be a mystery. Once each apartment is empty, you can let yourself in with your master key. Once inside, you have to search through their belongings to make a profile or the resident. The state is interested in learning everything about its citizens, even the things that aren’t yet illegal. You’re rewarded for each of these profiles that you submit based on what you’ve learnt through snooping.
If you can afford them, you then place security cameras throughout the apartments so you can monitor your neighbours at all times. Once each apartment is set up for surveillance the bulk of the game begins. Most neighbours will do something illegal within a short time frame. You can report them for this, which will result in the police beating the person heavily and carting them off to prison. Alternatively, you can choose to blackmail them for your own ends, or ignore the crime entirely. Speaking to each of the residents will usually fill you in on the nature of their crime and their motivation.
Never A Happy Moment
The residents are varied enough that Beholder rarely gets repetitive. One resident is fairly law-abiding, searches of her house will yield nothing and she’ll mainly stay on the government’s good side. Until you get to know her a little. You learn she’s fleeing from an abusive partner. With her violent ex-husband working for the state it’s unlikely she’ll be able to stay safe and hidden. She asks you to get her a gun, for self-defence. Possession of weapons is illegal, it’s a much bigger deal than the man reading banned books next door.
The gun can be easily bought from Carl’s friendly black market trader, but it’s not cheap. If you chose to stay out of this, or can’t afford a gun in time, she will be killed by her ex-husband. You learn this through the coroner showing up (A surprisingly common occurrence for landlords) and written in your daily newspaper. The newspaper is a fun detail but it’s usually just a list of the horrible outcome of your decisions. Each character comes with a story like this. Whichever way you chose to live Carl’s life; you end up hurting a lot of people.
All of your family can, and probably will die. You will have bombs planted in your building that could kill everyone. An old librarian may choose to shoot you in anger, after learning in childhood you vandalised a book leading to her imprisonment. There is a surprisingly large amount of ways to die. Carl’s family in particular are an expensive lot to keep alive. Ignoring their initially mundane seeming problems will escalate quickly. A death of any of them seems to ruin the others. Your new job and flat becomes a permanent symbol of what Carl and his family has lost since you took control.
Beholder and Morality
Carl isn’t just a tool of the state. In Beholderyouhave the option to become a key part of the resistance to the regime. Your building seems to become the one thing keeping the regime in power. This provides more options for different moral play-through. Beholdercan’t resist playing the old clichés of double agents and double-crossing in these dealings. You can forgive it for this and the happenstance that everything revolves around Carl, these elements are part of the charm of this genre.
This moral complexity gives Beholder a great replay value. You can re-do and re-do as many times as you want, trying to achieve a run through of the game where you don’t compromise your morals. The game’s economy makes this almost impossible. Doing good costs money. You probably won’t afford to keep your job and your family unless you’re willing to blackmail or turn in the residents.
This can all make Beholderfeel a long slog through misery and despair. The game tries to insert humour to keep you going and largely succeeds. There is some mood whiplash when the dark elements happen to surface around the same time. The darkness of the whole thing though, it completely all-consuming. There are light points to the plot, but if you’re looking for something uplifting look elsewhere.
- Gripping Story
- Solid Dark Humour
- Great Humour despite the dark
- High Replayability
- Lengthy Load-Times
- The Constant Sadness
Beholder is a fun enough management sim. The mechanics and gameplay are fairly simple but are used here as a fantastic tool for storytelling. It can be oppressively dark in its plotting and characters. The relentlessness of the misery can become a bit much. This makes it something of an acquired taste. Beholder is a fantastic morality-based game. If you can keep your spirits up, then it’s one that warrants many repeat plays.