The concept of Beholder is an interesting one. Set in a totalitarian country, the game puts you in control of Carl and makes him the landlord of a small apartment block. A reward for endless years of obeying the laws of the oppressive government. Well, unfortunately for Carl and his family there is a catch, a very big catch.
The government expects Carl to monitor his tenants for any flouting of their ridiculous laws and to report them if he discovers anything. You do this by surveillance. Planting cameras, spying through keyholes and searching through their belongings when they are out of their apartments.
The government set you missions and it’s up to you how you approach them from a moral standpoint. Do you go for the more ‘morally right’ approach where you try to protect people and help them out? Or do you stick to the rigid governmental approach? Reporting your tenants for any small infringement?
These moral choices are interesting but lack weight because of the despondent feel of many of your choices. That and the characters aren’t fleshed out enough. It’s not easy to connect to your tenants which might work if you’re playing a focused and detached government official.
If you choose to play that way then you can really have some fun with it. Planting illegal goods in their homes, manipulating their neighbours and watching the police arrive to drag them off. It makes you feel wicked but it is satisfying.
It’s all a balancing act though as missions set by the government sometimes clash with missions set by your family and the tenants. This forces you make big decisions that will affect Carl’s life. It is possible to alienate his entire family resulting in him being completely alone. Although it is a bit annoying to have your wife leave you over trivial stuff like forgetting to get her a specific item.
Missions are on timers so you have to make difficult choices about what ones you can complete in time. Completed missions will see you earn money and reputation. The former is used to repair other apartments giving you more tenants. As well as buy surveillance equipment from the government and illegal goods from merchants.
It is all pretty clever stuff and the darkened war-torn world looks pretty. However, the game has some fairly noticeable flaws that harm the overall quality of the game.
Ultimately the game boils down to earning and spending money and that’s disappointing. It becomes more of a race and the game makes it difficult for you to really stop and take in the gravity of the situation as missions come at you thick and fast.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as the game is at its best when things get a bit more frantic. As timers tick down you have to make snap decisions regarding obeying your masters or doing the ‘right’ thing, whatever that might mean. It is frustrating though that progress can be hindered by characters leaving for the day when you need to talk to them to move a mission forward. This can result in a lot of thumb-twiddling while you wait. You can go from frantically busy to bored within a minute.
There are two difficulties with quite a sharp spike between them and with multiple endings it is clear that Beholder is a game that is designed to be played more then once. However, there isn’t enough depth to really get you to come back as the world feels fairly bland and uninteresting. Then there is the repetitiveness of the gameplay, something that really harms its replay value.
It’s easy to be drawn into Beholder as the concept is clever. At first, it feels really deep and rewarding but after a while it becomes fairly mundane.