Beholder: Complete Edition Review
Beholder is a very stressful game. And that is by design; as Carl, the landlord of an apartment building in a totalitarian society, you’ve got a lot of tasks to complete, all the time. Mostly, you’re keeping tabs on people for the government. But there’s also more mundane chores to stay on top of, like attending to your family’s needs or cleaning vacant units out for reassignment.
Oh, and on top of that, there’s a clock ticking on each task. It is pretty tight, too, so you need to stay busy if you want to get everything done on time. And make sure you follow the government’s constantly-growing list of rules and proclamations; break them and you could find yourself hauled away by the police forever. Beholder will keep you on your toes, and if you like the feeling of fighting a losing battle against the clock, you’ll like this game.
Bleak House …
As befits this undertone of constant anxiety, the atmosphere in Beholder is as bleak as a Solzhenitsyn novel. Carl and his fellow characters are shadowy silhouettes in the style of Limbo; the building is a cutaway cross-section a la Fallout shelter. It’s brown and decrepit and shabby, much like I imagine a Soviet-era apartment block in Eastern Europe to have been. I swore I could almost smell the boiled cabbage and old wood odor of the hallways.
It’s certainly not a game for everyone. In fact it might have been an irredeemably depressing experience, except that it does have some interesting elements. There’s a fair bit of spycraft to the game, as you set up surveillance on your targets using devices like hidden cameras. Probably the most enjoyable element is the collecting of clues and evidence using these cameras and your own searching, and then putting together a file that connects the evidence together into a case. During these parts, Beholder reminded me of great titles like Papers, Please.
It’s in the open-ended aspects that Beholder really shines. You’re given a target to build a case on, and there are multiple ways you can do it; you can break into their apartment and search it, you can watch them through the cameras, you can even just talk to them or their neighbors. And I liked that there are also open-ended results – say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or overstep your bounds, and you could end up shot dead. Just like that, it’s game over.
… Maybe a Bit Too Bleak
Despite the positives, though, it’s hard to stick with Beholder for long because you don’t get much a sense of progression. Succeeding at a task gets you money, but I didn’t see much useful that I could buy, except more surveillance cameras. You also get reputation points, but again I didn’t feel that helped me much. It’s just on to the next task, and the next clock starts ticking. Sigh, back to the grind..
There’s also a layer of moral choice mixed in that I never felt completely worked. It seemed like I was supposed to feel emotionally torn at spying on people or causing them to be arrested and taken away. But whenever I talked with the tenants they seemed to be at best flat characters or at worst downright unlikeable. Even my own family never gave me much reason to care. I was quite satisfied to carry out my orders and I never thought a moment about anyone after my task was done.
Maybe all of this is intentional – I felt like Beholder seems to be presenting itself as a sort-of simulation of what life is like in a totalitarian society. You’re not supposed to find it fun, right? And I am sure that there are lots of “Carls” out there who become jaded and amoral after living in such an environment. So I find it hard to be too critical of a game when it is succeeding at what it set out to do. And there are a few parts of the game that I enjoyed – including the included ‘Blissful Sleep’ DLC which brings a new protagonist and supporting characters. In the long run though, Beholder: Complete Edition is a bit too much like an exhausting job, a job that I wished I could quit after a while.
** A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher **
- Some fun spy gameplay
- Open-ended design
- Challenging but fair
- Depressing tone
- Visually dull