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Beholder is an indie adventure title developed by Russian-based studio Warm Lamp Games. According to the developers, the game is inspired by “the oppressive laws introduced by the Russian Government”.
It takes place in a fictional Totalitarian state run by the cold and calculating “Ministry”. You play as Carl Stein, a newly state-appointed landlord of an apartment building who has been ordered to keep an eye on the tenants and report any suspicious activity that goes against the Ministry’s wishes.
To do so you will be profiling your tenants, secretly installing cameras in their apartments and, in certain cases, will have to take some unsavoury steps to get rid of those the Ministry consider “undesirables”. Whether you will comply with these Orwellian tactics is entirely up to you.
Beyond the Ministry’s orders, you will also be dealing with various requests from your family and tenants. Some will be mundane fetch quests, such as having to ask around for a textbook for your son’s studies (not the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done in a game). There are quite a few of these quests and they basically just made me feel like everyone’s errand boy. Many of the other requests on the other hand will put you in serious danger of the Ministry’s wrath.
Beholder will hold you accountable for every step you take and not only make sure you see their results but feel them too
All of them will heavily play on your emotions though. This is one aspect of the game the developers nailed, doing a good job of making you care about most things you do and what the end result could be.
Beholder will constantly be pitting your fear of governmental retribution against your empathy for your tenants’ basic human rights. Every choice you make will have its consequences. Most of these consequences will be dire for one of the parties involved and it’s up to you to decide what you are able to live with.
In one case, a family member was struck with a rare disease that would cost a fortune to treat. As most objectives, this was a time sensitive case. If I did not comply with these instructions this member would inevitably die. But to gather the colossal sum of money in the short timeframe, I would need to extort and exploit half the apartment building.
This would severely hurt my reputation (numerically measured in points below the money count), which in turn meant that if I ever needed help from any of these tenants in the future, the chance of them turning me down greatly increased.
At this point you might be thinking that Beholder sounds like a pretty damn depressing game and, you know what, it absolutely is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it creates a captivating and relatable gaming experience that pushes you to think and really consider your next move.
I’ve played too many games that thoroughly answer the question of WHAT you’re doing but never venture too deep into WHY you’re doing it. Beholder will hold you accountable for every step you take and not only make sure you see their results but feel them too.
Beholder also conjures up a wonderfully fitting atmosphere to further enhance its sombre tone. It boasts a unique art style coupled with well-integrated sound design. All the characters have twisted and exaggerated features and don’t speak in words but strange muffles, adding an eccentric and almost humorous edge to the game.
Deeper look at gameplay
In Beholder your main concern should be to keep the Ministry happy. This will take on various forms throughout the game, the first of which is to enforce a constantly updated list of “directives” such as the banning of apples, or singing and dancing.
These directives successfully lend potency to the overall atmosphere and plot of the game, forever asserting the presence of the Totalitarian government.
To successfully enforce the directives you will have to scrutinize the activities of your tenants and gather evidence against them, which you can then add to their profiles for the Ministry to review.
To gather the evidence you will have to secretly plant hidden cameras in their apartments and rummage through their personal belongings to find anything that suggests illegal behaviour.
Beholder also conjures up a wonderfully fitting atmosphere to further enhance its sombre tone
You will have approach this carefully though. If a tenant catches you in his apartment without their consent, you will take a knock to your reputation points as word spreads through the building.
But like I mentioned before, it is up to you what choices you make and whose side you choose. At a certain point in the game you will be introduced to rebellion group who wishes for you to collaborate with them against the government.
This will usually mean giving shelter to “undesirables” or running a certain errand ominous errand such as buying banned goods from the black market dealer that occasionally appears on your doorstep. This will greatly increase your reputation with sympathisers of their cause but make sure any Ministry inclined tenants don’t find out.
Beholder will also through in various random events in the mix such as a rebellion happening on your doorstep that leads to your whole building being damaged. This means having to fix every damage piece of furniture while still trying to complete your quests in time.
This can get quite overwhelming and you will encounter more and more situations like this as the game progresses. Managing all these requests and orders against the ever-ticking clock while trying to keep a stable reputation is undoubtedly where Beholder’s greatest challenge reveals itself.
Release Date: 9 November 2016
Developer: Warm Lamp Games
Publisher: Alawar Entertainment
Genre: Strategy, Adventure, Indie
Platforms(s): Linux, MacOS, PC (Steam)
Review Platform: PC
Industry Average Score: 75/100 (average of three reviews)
Verdict: Beholder won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It will require you to meticulously consider your every move and carefully navigate the various encounters you have with tenants and the Ministry. This can get rather exhausting at times. But if you pay close attention and allow yourself to be truly immersed in its world, it can become a captivating game that touches stimulating political themes such as patriotism, the meaning of freedom and the fear of retribution. And for the cost, it is one of the most reasonably priced games you’ll find on Steam.