Goddamn, Beholder was a really hard game to pull off … and I mean really hard. Holy … okay, I am going to say something very controversial in the next few lines but, it’s just so you know. On one hand, Beholder is a great game with atmosphere, meaning it makes you feel a certain way, when experiencing it, just because of how well it immerses you into its world. On the other hand, my stress levels hit the roof a couple of times that I was close to rage quitting on a few occasions. So, without further ado, welcome to the Beholder Review!
Just as a heads up, I am going to complain a lot in this review. Now, that doesn’t make the game bad, but some things just tipped me dangerously off that sanity edge of mine. In all of my gaming experience and I’m talking about a lot of years here, I had never experienced such a stress inducing title. Then Papers, Please! came and I was drawn to it somehow. I played it and I quite liked it, but I couldn’t pull off more than an hour per session, because of how stressful it was. Then I finished it and I was so glad. The game was good, but I was glad to be done with it. Then I experienced happy indie titles like Karma and Wuppo for example and I kind of let some steam off with World of Warcraft: Legion, because when there are not annoying dumb alliances to camp you, PvE can be a really pleasant experience. And then Beholder came … but oh no. I brought this on myself, because I had an eye for this game and picked it up on my own accord. Well, this game was Papers, Please! all over again, but taken to the next level. These were the 13 most stressful hours of my gaming life, up until this point and on my last session I even brought with me a glass of wine and some chocolate, you know just to smoothen things up (in case you are wondering, it didn’t help :)) It was on so many occasions in which I wanted to pull up Google and just cheat my way through it, but I couldn’t because the game is new and there are no guides yet, hell I even played with a friend, cuz you know 2 heads are better than 1 (in case you are wondering again, that didn’t help either :))
Okay, now that all of that is out of the way, enough whining, let’s get down professional, shall we. Beholder is a more of a strategy, less of an adventure game, but there are definitely of both elements inside (even if at unequal quantities). You play as Carl – a newly appointed landlord, by the government, to a small apartment building and you are tasked with the duties of keeping everything in check … no matter the means, and by that I mean, that the government lets you do whatever you want, as long as it supports their cause. You know what they say, no matter the means if they supplement the ends. As a façade in front of the tenants, you are just there to make the building a happy place to live in (haha, happy and beholder in the same sentence), but little do they know about your real mission. And let me tell you the game does not take it’s time to get real deep.
The story of Beholder is set in a very grim dystopian state, where all the pointless Ministries are just wondering what to ban next (and trust me, you will see all sorts of ridiculous bans like owning apples or salt, hell even stuff like entertainment – I remember evicting a woman, cuz she was dancing … I didn’t wanna do it, but then this quest popped up and I was like “oh, ok then”). As a landlord, you have to make sure everyone is happy and also unaware of your true mission, which is to spy on them. Spying can be done, by either peeking in their apartments (yeah, not creepy at all), playing it safe and just installing security cameras in them (yeah, not even creepier) or plain out going through their stuff for information. As an undercover agent of the ministry (if I can put it this way) you have to profile every tenant (it’s not really mandatory, but it helps, I guess) and if they violate the law, you must report them to the Ministry. Now I say must, but you actually have a choice whether to do so or not. In fact this game is full of choices, which most of you will regret later on. I honestly can’t help but think that this game itself is a complex junction of choices, one leading to the other and everything is getting from bad to worse. The game ain’t lying when it says that your choices will have consequences and you will have to deal with them … oh you will, indeed.
Just like in Papers, Please! here our moral choices are not only based on individuals but on groups as well. The main thing we have to choose between is whether to support the government or the rebels and help them out. In my playthrough I went with the rebels, because the government was such a piece of sh*t, but I was more like, trying to survive, as in not get a game over, because of money deficiency, so I had to base my choices around that. And let’s be real here, the game’s demands for money is just unreal and if you do not pay attention to that and consider your choices in mind with money, you are gonna lose … and trust me it will happen a lot.
The story itself is linear, you have 2 paths, either support the government or the rebel movement and some little details vary concerning the tenants that live there. For example a tenant important to the storyline can end up in a couple of ways, which might influence your ending as well, a bit at least. My main problem with the story is not that it’s linear, but rather that in the amount of times and the amount of things you can f*ck up, you’re going to have to go through the game all over again and nothing changes from the defaults. I myself had to restart 3 times and because I knew where this was going I decided to backtrack instead. What do I mean by that? The game’s save system, features and auto save each time you get a new mission or complete one, or progress in some way (with the exclusion of some cases, but oh well). This annoyed me because of two reasons – some awkward saves and some awkward missing saves. First of all, in a game where I f*ck up occasionally and have to load a save, I would at least appreciate a saving system, where I can also save whenever I want. You cannot imagine how many times I had to replay a section of the game, just to get the ideal combination of choices to proceed forward, so I don’t have to start all over (please, I watched a family move out 4 times, my wife died like 5 or 6 times, my son moved out and robbed a bank 5 times – and died of course). And here there was an annoying bug where my wife’s death would be played out twice and I had to pay an extra 1000 for her funeral … as if I don’t have enough to deal with, game (I actually read the update today and I am so glad they fixed this … because it was infuriating, especially when it happened 5 times). And in the end, I stopped really caring. But I was too far into the game, to allow myself to be defeated and start all over. But also sometimes you might f*ck up by accident and the game doesn’t save. And there you go back like half an hour, having to replay everything. Even with the saving system out of perspective, my point is, the game is too linear for the amount of times you’re probably going to have to replay it or some sections of it. To be honest, I would have enjoyed more if the world of Beholder (or at least the tenants) were randomly generated every time. Of course, I understand you cannot have an unlimited amount of tenants or events, but at least to some point, in order to contribute to replay value.
I also want to mention how unforgiving the story is. I know this is the point, but from the very beginning the game lures in like a little puppy all like “hey, don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you, you’ll see” and then 5 minutes later, boom, you need 20k to save your daughter, your son wants 15k for school taxes and meanwhile your wife wants like 1500 occasionally, for bills …what the eff? MONEY DOES NOT GROW ON TREES PEOPLE!!!! And to top it off there is an achievement to keep all your family alive. And I remember further into the game the son wants 15k more and I read somewhere that the wife gets hit by a car if you don’t give her money, cuz she tried to make some herself … come again, now? The only real one I felt bad for dying was my daughter, because I really wanted to save her, but I really couldn’t figure out how and it also happened so early on in the game (there was this tenant, who I helped and he gave me a teddy for my daughter and as I saw the timer ticking, she had like 24h to live, because I knew I couldn’t get the money … game … please, stahp Q_Q). I guess everything is possible, but you have to find like the ideal combination of choices to lead you up to that success and here I prove my point a bit. The amount of replaying required in this game, quickly makes it boring. As I said, I had to restart it 3 times in a short amount of time (like 2 hours or something) and I had already gotten tired of everything up to the point of f*cking up (ultimately I gave up on trying to save my daughter and just moved on … the game should not be punishing for you attempting to do something – there is a difference between outright punishing and challenging).
I am taken back now, to the time I played Darkest Dungeon and I said that I like when games are not scared to punish their players for f*cking up … Beholder takes that thought to a whole new level of meaning. It not only punishes you if you f*ck up but punishes you if you don’t … because even if by chance you think you had made the right choice, it will get back to you later on, trust me. This game crushes you and that’s why it’s so stressful to play, because you consider so many moral things and you try to make the best out of what you have and it’s not working and it’s just frustrating. If I have to be completely honest here. As much as I liked the game, I was just as much joyous that it was over and I will probably never touch it again … at least not without a decent guide out there. I also tried to progress the story with decisions I wanted to make, but it ended up I had to change that because I would fail either of money or reputation shortage. But we will talk about this a bit further down into the review.
Okay, as a wrap up to story and all my whining about it. Ultimately I did enjoy it in a masochistic way, and the fact that you can actually make choices, but it’s a bit linear when stripped to the core and it’s very morally unforgiving, up to the point, it can crush your spirit. And sometimes choices don’t even matter if you can’t back it up. To be honest at the end I didn’t really care what my ending was … I was happy I had an ending and not one where I run out of money.
Enough about that, let’s get more technical. The game is a 2D, kind of a side-scrolled, with the difference that it’s just settled in one place and the only real movement you have of the camera is if you zoom in. You walk by clicking around and with clicking you also interact with objects. Quests are marked with an ! over people’s heads and the game also points them to you if you are looking somewhere else and the quest giver is off screen, which is nice.
Basically gameplay consists of running around, spying on people and making choices. When you click on a tenant’s apartment door you have the option to knock on it, which will get a tenant’s attention and they will walk up to it, open and you can talk to them. The second option is the peek in and see what tenants are doing and if there is anyone inside at all and the third option is to unlock their door and explore the room to your heart’s content. If you get caught you have to go out. I don’t really know much how consequential that is, because I kind of tried real hard not to get caught and reloaded on the few times I did. Once inside you can pretty much do 2 things – put surveillance cameras, which is done on fire alarms in specific spots in the room or search through their belongings (you can steal stuff too, but I outright refused to do it – beside this one time where I stole a wine bottle from a tenant and gave it back to her as a quest … lol, and then also my friend wanted me to steal a guy’s gun, which I didn’t do in the end, but oh well). I was really puzzled as to how consequences for stealing work. I stole once, nothing happened really, then when I went to steal something from another room, just for the sake of the argument we had, I got caught by the police and then I did it a third time and nothing happened. Good thing I had a close by save. As for the cameras, I put cameras almost everywhere but I felt like they were useless most of the time, which was kind of disappointing.
So why you do all these things? Basically you have to find out information about your tenants and profile them or catch them do illegal stuff and report them (or blackmail them). You do this on your working desk. When you profile a tenant you write their details (name, apartment number, marital status, etc) and then drag the info you have found and send it off to the ministry. Same goes when reporting someone, you fill in the details (this time including which directive they have violated and the evidence. Throughout the game you will see a lot of bubbles on top of people’s heads. This is generally the way they express what they are talking about with other people or what they are doing at the moment. If a bubble is white or green then everything is okay, but if it’s red, it means they a violating the law. You gather evidence by clicking on the actual bubble and it will automatically be stored in their profiles. You can also blackmail people, but I don’t really know how this works, because I never did end up trying it … maybe I should have, for the amount of money the game demands you to have.
Speaking of profiles, the in-game menu features a few things: first we have the quest tab, which shows us all current and passed quests (which are dimmed out a bit). Here we can catch up to what’s going on if we forget. Next we have the tenants tab. Here we see all apartments and who lives in them. If an apartment is empty it is put for repair (which costs 500) and when repaired we can move in new people. Sometimes the government gives us a task to move in someone, but generally we are given a list of tenants to choose from. In this tab we can also click on each tenant and find out the information we know about them. The general details, which are given to us are name, age, occupation and a short description. Everything else we find out on our own, which is done by either looking through their things or generally talking to them (or even other people about them). To be honest, I feel like most tenants were plain useless to the story and were just added there for flavor. I don’t see why this cannot be randomized, again, to enhance replay value. Next we have the directives tab. Here we observe all the new laws and what is prohibited. We have to pay attention to this tab in order to know what tenants are not allowed to do. Finally the last tab shows us all the tenants we have profiled and reported and the outcome of that (usually the police comes to check a report and for example it might say that a tenant has been arrested and we are awarded money).
The 2 currencies of the game are money and reputation. Money is really hard to earn and really demanding in Beholder. Like I mentioned, a lot of people demand a lot of money and also the government is fining us for our every mistake even if it is uncalled for, so the main thing you will struggle for is money. Also other options are available to us with money, which are outright unrealistic. Quite frankly I never got to a point in the game where I had more than 20k on me … ever (I didn’t even reach 20k, it was about 19k and something). You earn money by the following: completing quests, doing what the government wants or even the rebel movement, profiling or reporting tenants, from blackmailing people and by selling junk items you find (a very helpful thing I found here was that I can buy cameras for prestige points and sell them for money – that literally saved me a couple of times, since cameras were not all that useful). The second currency is prestige points and you generally use them to get people to do what you want (if you don’t wanna pay them to do it) or buy cameras with them. You earn prestige by finding out stuff about people, from quests and generally making the ministry happy. To balance between both currencies and your choices is really hard. And I mean REALLY HARD. Most of the time I reloaded older saves exactly because of lack of one currency (or both lol).
Two more things I want to talk about, before the final verdict: sound and visuals.
The sound of the game is awesome. I loved it so much. It’s this dark and gloomy tune, and this very aggressive and strict one for when the police comes, it just immerses you so well. The off-putting things about sound is the actual sound effects. Most of them are fine with the exception of that damn bus. The sounds from the bus are super loud and trust me for the amount of times the bus passes, it gets really annoying. Not to mention that if I turn it down I can’t hear the rest of the sounds I want to. Same goes for that propaganda truck. The speaking volume just drove me crazy especially when I had to replay that part twice and listen to them for 12 in-game days straight … like seriously. There isn’t really talking in this game … well there is but it’s unintelligible talking (except the propaganda truck). I quite fancied that, I’m always a fan of unintelligible languages in games. The thing I didn’t like about it is that you have to basically zoom max to a character in order to actually hear it, which I very rarely did. But I guess if all could be heard at the same time it would get a bit crowded. Other than that music was always completely enjoyable, but I really wish those two things can be tuned down a bit.
Visually, there is basically nothing bad I can say about Beholder, it’s just so pleasant to look at. It features this dark and dim pastel feeling, immersing you into the world and the people are black silhouettes, with white details on them. Reminds me so much of Limbo, since it was the same there (with a bit less details). Animations were very smooth and I can’t really complain about anything, as I said. The only thing, which kind of bothered me was the fact that when you are going through people’s things and the menu for the furniture you are searching pops up, it takes most of the screen and I cannot follow when the tenant might return (hence the few mini jumpscares when they caught me because of this). And sometimes it’s hard to click on smaller objects when zoomed out (you have to be otherwise you can’t see when a tenant comes back), but again minor details, which were not that off-putting as other stuff was. Overall Beholder is really good to look at and it is just dark enough to complement the setting and story.
Before we proceed to the verdict, I want to mention again the fact that I read the patch today for the update and I was happy to see quite a lot of stuff fixed and also (omg) EASY MODE. Yes, I suppose this is a more forgiving mode, where it won’t stress you that much and it will be less punishing for newbies, but to the very least I REGRET NOTHING. I am glad I experienced Beholder on its intended difficulty, because otherwise it just wouldn’t have been the same experience.
Okay … verdict. I’d say I would give the game a 7/10. It’s great, it’s worth the while, but there is not much replayability to it, beside to experience the other ending, but I don’t think I can be put through that again (at least for a while and without being able to cheat). Also I would have liked the cameras actually being more useful, also more tenants related to the story and not only for flavor, nothing which cannot be fixed. Yeah, I guess you can try the easier difficulty, but I have a feeling it won’t be the same as completing the real deal. I feel like I wanted to be rewarded more for my choices and I also feel like I wanted to see more RNG implemented into the game. Maybe in the future, but as it is now, I can still recommend this game to people, at least for one run or so. Definitely keeps you on edge for the entire playghtrough, but it also requires a lot of patience and nerves to complete.