Accept your fate and work for the government, or subvert the regime and work towards changing the world you live in. That’s the premise of Beholder Complete Edition, and it’s one that you’ll not be successful at if you stick rigidly to one doctrine. A strategy-cum-survival title from Warm Lamp Games, it asks you to be a landlord that spies and informs on his tenants in a world that’s straight out of 1984, where nothing is as it seems and doing the right thing is more than likely going to get someone killed… probably you. Can you juggle the responsibility of keeping your family alive and together against working for the controlling nanny state, whilst also managing the militant demands of the subverters?
The year is 1984 (influences are not hidden in this game!) and you, Carl Stein, have been allocated to run a rental property in the Totalitarian state you call home. Moving in with your wife and two children you see the old landlord being bundled into a meat wagon and are given a stark warning – conform, inform and spy on your tenants or you’ll suffer the same fate as him. You’re inducted into the job with ease: plant a camera in a smoke detector here, rifle through some drawers there, sneak into an apartment or two; it all seems very straightforward. Then comes your first challenge in evicting a tenant. The state want him out and how you do it is up to you. Do you report he’s broken the law or do you just ask him to leave? What about his wife, what’s going to happen to her? He’s been a friendly old gentleman who’s helped your son out with some university text books, maybe you owe it to him to be straight about it. Why not knock on his door and have a chat? BANG! Fade to black…
This is where Beholder distinguishes itself, in the interactions of the tenants and landlord. You’re managing the day to day maintenance of the property and running errands for those that need things done. You get to know these people superficially, but because you’re also spying on them you see who they are behind closed doors, and carrying out the ministry’s orders builds a conflict in who you want to be in the game. Sticking rigidly to right wing hardliner or left wing liberal will mean a tough time for Carl (i.e., you’ll end up dead very quickly), though treading the middle ground is equally challenging. Shades of grey is what this game is all about and your morality will be tested the further you progress. Stick rigidly to the rules and your family will suffer, can you cope with the loss of a loved one? There doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong, just a necessity, and Beholder will push you to the the brink of how you’re prepared to treat people if you’re to succeed.
It’s very minimalist in the presentation, simply a house with six apartments, a shared kitchen and laundry, an attic and Carl’s family’s quarters in the basement. Everything fits on one screen and you can see all the action depending on how far zoomed out you are. Well, in theory you can see the action, but that’s only if you’re prepared to sneak around a bit. Each apartment hides its occupants until you do something to spy on them like adding surveillance cameras or peering through the keyholes. Once those chinks of visibility are provided you can go about collecting information on them and figuring out if they’re doing anything the state would be interested in. Carl earns his living mainly through profiling and reporting on anyone who’s contravening the state’s edicts, and given there’s a new one to be aware of every 10 minutes or so, it’s easy to pin something on someone. The question becomes whether you’ll report it or not because you might be better off blackmailing and scamming money for yourself. The driver here is the mounting cash requirement for keeping your family healthy, in school and content – failing these brings you closer to an unhappy ending.
Bigger paydays come along fairly regularly as long as you’re willing to risk the wrath of the state or the tenants as various shady characters ask you to house people for them. Sometimes it works, sometimes you’ll end up with your fingers burnt, and occasionally there’s the chance to make some extra dough, or steal some choice items and flog them to the black market. Despite the way it looks this isn’t a slow paced game and it needs you to be on the ball pretty much constantly. The ministry are quick to fine you for failure to perform and the time limits imposed on some tasks don’t leave you much thinking time. Handily, if things go pear shaped you’re at least able to reload a save from a few minutes before and make some different decisions. Near enough all actions are quick to select with the shoulder buttons or touchpad, and controls are intuitive as well as having nice little pictorial context sensitive reminders.
Beholder Complete Edition delivers an interesting take on the strategy genre that’s refreshing and compelling. It’s on the difficult side that tends towards trial and error rather than being able to muddle through with bad choices – finding yourself driven down a dead end can be frustrating after the umpteenth time it happens. When it clicks though you can get drawn into Carl’s moral choices and find a reasonable amount of depth to the characters you’re being asked to shop to the ministry. It can get repetitive with sneaking into apartments when people are out and installing cameras, and there are some questionable AI moments when you get caught leaving a room by the occupier and they don’t bat an eyelid. The environment it’s set in is ripe for further exploration and it sometimes feels limited that you’re stuck within the confines of one apartment building, but maybe the upcoming sequel will expand on that and make more use of the dystopian world Warm Lamp Games have built.
A PS4 review copy of Beholder Complete Edition was provided by Warm Lamp Games PR team, and it’s available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC for between £10 and £12 (depending on platform), as well as mobile devices. The Complete Edition also includes the Blissful Sleep DLC which adds another short campaign focussing on the previous landlord of the apartment building.