Beholder is, at its core, a game about spying. However, unlike most spy games, you don’t play a rugged special ops agent who must infiltrate an evil cabal of terrorists. You play a portly government landlord in a fictional totalitarian (fairly obviously Communist) state. The people you spy on are your tenants. As the game’s intro cinematic informs us, the previous landlord was violently beaten and dragged out of the building in handcuffs. Thus, you have all the motivation you need to be a good little government informer.
Inevitably, the game will probably bring up flashes of Papers, Please, the hit indie game about being a government bureaucrat in a fictional totalitarian Communist state. Beholder has some key differences. First of all, its style is much more cartoonish. Most of the figures are exaggerated and look like something out of a comic, and only the whites of their eyes seem visible on their black frames. Besides that, you actually have to uphold your duties as a landlord and occasionally as a father. The game is much more of a management sim in that regard. However, the objective remains the same: do awful things to stay alive. Ostensibly, Beholder takes it a step further and lets you blackmail, steal and trade on the black market for your own profit. So it gives you the option to be an even bigger bastard. However, as you’ll find, sometimes you need to do shady things for money to stay afloat.
The game’s actual surveillance mechanics can be a little clunky. Essentially, you see the building in 2D and you can view all the available apartments. Now, the apartments start off as being pitch-black, but you can install cameras in them to create little visible bits. Moreover, you can peek through the keyhole to get a full view of what’s going on. Once your tenants get up to something, a little thought bubble pops up showing what they’re doing. If you notice that it’s some illegal or sketchy activity, you can double click on the thought bubble and add the activity to that person’s file. Now, this part was a little wonky for me, but after going through the tutorial I got through the basics well enough. The game adds a little bit of challenge by insisting that you only go into the tenants’ when they’re not home (the ministry employee implies this is done to give the tenants a false sense of privacy) but this mechanic doesn’t really pan out. If you’re caught by a tenant, you’re just asked to leave and nothing really happens. Moreover, the game tells you that your character has been given special drugs that take away your need to sleep, making your surveillance job easier. I actually didn’t like this, because it took away any kind of challenge to maintain the surveillance.
The game ramps the challenge right back up by giving you a series of timed tasks from the government. The issue here is that the tenants behave fairly randomly, so more often than not you’re playing the waiting game. The game takes a fair bit of patience, and it would have been better if they tried to tweak the AI a little bit to account for that.
Criticisms aside, the surveillance becomes incredibly immersive. You start tracking the activities of your tenants, and matching them against the list of illegal activities the government keeps updating you with. Perversely, you start wanting the tenants to do something illegal, as it gets the government off your back. For bonus points, you can find some illegal activity and blackmail your tenants.
The game really managed to put me in the mind of a corrupt Communist landlord, and it becomes even more emotionally engaging when you help your tenants with small issues like finding a wife or buying a book for someone. It’s a window into the daily challenges people in totalitarian states faced, and it definitely manages to use the game medium to tell the story of a guy who’s forced to be the bad guy to survive.
Beholder was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by Alawar Entertainment. The game was tested on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Game forces you to make difficult choices
• The Characters seem well-developed
• The 2D interface makes keeping up with everything feel smoother
• The AI behavior is too random
• There are not enough penalties for getting caught spying
• After a while, it can get repetitive