Utomik features many interesting game titles, one of the advantage of using a subscription based gaming service is being able to take a change on games which interest you or that you have never heard of. Beholder was the latter, it sneaked past my radar, but on reading the synopsis, I felt compelled to try it out. It was an experience which both disturbed and fascinated me.
Beholder immerses you in a dystopian world, influenced by literature such as Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwells masterpiece 1984. Beholder places you in the shoes of a landlord - Carl Stein, employed by the state to watch over his tenants. You are tasked with the job of invading your tenant's privacy in any way possible and not getting caught by them. One of the most chilling lines during the tutorial comes from your mentor "It's important that citizens still believe they have privacy even though that certainly is not the case"
You are spying on your hapless tenants in case they become involved in any activity which the state sanctions as illegal. Once this happens, you must report them immediately or face the consequences of your negligence. However, you don't have to report...everything.. This is a game where moral decision is everything and will haunt you for days to come.
I watch, somewhat unsympathetically as the man in apartment No.2 is taken away. He is beaten badly by a police officer until he is forced into a large van and taken to prison. This will be the first of many beatings for him and only our darkest imagination could fathom what will happen next to him.
I'm not a monster, I am without sympathy because this man pushed my daughter and deals in drugs. I knew about my daughter's assault because she told me and I knew about the drugs because earlier that day, when his left his apartment, I installed a Surveillance camera in his room.
I don't feel bad about his beating and my involvement in sending him to prison because, he's a bad man, doing bad things. Now that he's gone, I can use the government funds awarded to me for his capture to renovate the apartment above him and rent it to a better clientele.
The interface is incredibly intuitive to use, it's all based on simple point and click mechanics. Clicking where you want Carl to move and what you wish him to interact with. You buy the equipment you need by clicking the store icon and selecting what is available, this is added to your inventory of available items. Installing security camera's is as simple as selecting a suitable spot and clicking on it, this in turn shows a context wheel of available options. One of which is to install the security camera. You can now spy on the room from the comfort of your basement suite.
Once you amass enough money, you can repair more apartments to generate income and to catch traitors to the state. Of course you don't Have to do this.. part of the genius of this game is the sincere choice mechanic which like it's acclaimed spiritual predecessor Papers Please is the soul of this title. You can turn a blind eye to the actions of the residents, but doing so may cause the governments displeasure and you will be punished. Carl lives in as much fear of the totalitarian regime as his unlucky tenants do.
There is a further challenge, you don't just spy on your residents, you must also keep them happy. This means repairing objects like television sets or lights. This adds a nice simulation dimension to the game and really helped immerse me in the experience of being Carl.
New government edicts arrive for you each day, detailing what has become illegal. Some of these will make no sense, such as foreign clothing - Jeans being illegal. This forced me to make a decision regarding some of my more respected tenants - Klaus Schimmer, who hadn't committed any real crimes. One day I discover jeans in his department , what do I do? Earlier he gave my wife a lovely large saucepan when we needed it to feed the children. I did everything in my power to help him escape, but I couldn't afford the expensive medicine my child needed to keep her from dying. So I had to turn him in.
This is the essence of the gameplay - that of hard moral choices. It's an engrossing subject and often as I made a decision I would ask my wife what to do. It's a game that makes you feel something, which is so rare in most titles.
Graphics and Sounds
I was very impressed with the artstyle of the game, it was dark, depressing and brooding. Each character is little more than a silhouette with eyes. They are all easy to distinguish from one another and all posses an incredible amount of personality. I think the art style choices are a statement about how easy it is to dehumanise others but I felt that I knew each one.
The sound is fairly sparse, there's an atmospheric musical score which is full of heavy notes and wistful sighs. There's no voice acting as such, but as the character speaks you hear distinctive mumbling as the subtitled text interprets those.
I have played this game twice through and attempted to save more than I condemn. It has replayable value and I could see myself taking a third pass through the game to try and make Carl more of a heroic figure.
What Could be Better
I would have liked for some voice acting and perhaps a little more detail in the tuition level. Sometimes it is hard to scroll out and view all the apartments and Carl moves a little slowly when you click somewhere for him to go.
I was excited about this game after I had finished it. A game which truly makes me feel something and evokes regret about the decisions I have made, that's powerful. At times I was juggling four or five different quests as a counter was ticking down for me to earn enough money to save my daughters life. There's an intensity to the game which isn't overwhelming, but stimulating.
It's a game which is politically charged and holds up a mirror to our own world, while feeling distant enough for it to invite the player to use their imagination. I asked myself and my wife was I good person while playing through it, then grabbed a glass of wine and went back for more. This is a game I recommend for you to experience