by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Beholder is a game set in a dystopian country where government surveillance is everywhere, war is raging at the borders, and ordinary people are barely scraping a living together. It shares a lot in theme and style with 2013’s Papers, Please. You are working for the government, and your first duty is to report criminal activity. Keeping the best interests of your family and the people around you at heart often goes against the government’s wishes, and it’s up to you how to approach each situation.
You are a landlord of an apartment complex. Your family lives in the basement, and you rent out the apartments above you to a wide variety of characters, each with their likes, dislikes, and desires. The government wants you to spy on them, and while that may go against your morals, it’s one of the few ways of getting money. Bills needs to be paid, family members may become sick and require treatment, and if you go against any government directives, you might have to pay an unexpected fine. There are a few options to spy on your tenants. You can go into their apartment while they’re not around and root through their belongings to see what makes them tick. If you get caught in the act, you’ll lose reputation points, which would otherwise be useful later to persuade people to do things for you.
The other option is placing security cameras in their apartment. These won’t be discovered, and allow you to keep an eye on any suspicious activity within the apartment, but won’t let you see what they have hidden away in drawers and under their beds. It’s pretty easy to cover the majority of your apartment complex with cameras, but they can be costly, so it’s up to you to decide what to spend your money on. The final way of getting to know your tenants is by simply talking to them. There are some dialogue options, and certain branching paths within your conversations may have dire consequences, either for the person you’re talking to, someone else in the building, or maybe even you. There’s quite a lot of text in the game, although the writing isn’t superb, nor is it translated very well in places.
You can profile your tenants and send off their information to the government to gain money, or if you spot them doing something illegal or find contraband in their apartment, you can report them. Police will come and take them away, and you’ll get a cash bonus for that too. However, the government issues new directives every day, and it soon becomes clear that everyone will eventually be doing something illegal, even if they don’t realise it. It’s easy to clear people out of your house pretty soon after they move in, if you want to, but it could often be beneficial to keep certain people around.
The needs of the people
You have a quest log which will fill up with things to do from your family, tenants, the government, and certain mysterious people who may visit you or call you on the phone. Some of them have time limits, others stick around for as long as you need to do them. Fail to complete a quest in the allotted time and you may face consequences further down the line. There was one awful stretch for my family in the middle of the game where my daughter died of an illness, my son was killed by police, and something… else happened to my wife. I didn’t see exactly what killed her, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was suicide based on what had happened previously.
Everything you do in the game, including your management of the people who survive and how well you perform your government duties, has an effect on the ending of the game. There are multiple and they’re often not too happy. The game can end early if you die or are arrested, but the actual end of the game itself is rather abrupt and anticlimactic. In the final days of the main story I found myself with no quests to perform, all my tenants seemed content, and I had no bills to pay. There’s a fast forward function for just such occasions, but it wasn’t long before the game ended, I saw the consequences of my actions, and the credits rolled. It took around five hours in total, but there’s more to be seen here if you want to go back and make different decisions.
All in all, Beholder is enjoyable, yet becomes repetitive. Sneaking around the house while people are out at work or getting some food from the basement kitchen is exciting the first few times you do it, but you soon realise its fairly trivial. You can run very fast by double clicking, so you can generally get out of their apartment before they return if you spot them coming up the stairs. And even if they can see you conspicuously standing in the hallway with their front door open, they don’t suspect you of trespassing. There’s this general lack of polish found all over the game, with characters referencing characters who have died or aren’t in the building anymore as if they’re simply upstairs.
Beholder is a fairly unique game of spying, decision making, and disaster avoidance. The story of a secret rebellion uprising against an authoritarian government has been told many times before, but at least government controlled property landlord is a fresh perspective on things. It won’t take you that long to complete, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and you’ll have a good time balancing all the things that need doing for those few hours.
Spying on tenants is exciting for a while. Balancing work against the needs of your family is an entertaining challenge.
Lack of polish on certain aspects. Unoriginal story. Mediocre writing.