STAFF REVIEW of Beholder (Xbox One)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018.
by Royce Dean

Beholder Box art Do you remember when you were a child and you did a bad thing? It doesn’t really matter what the thing was, just think back. It could have been coloring on the walls, coming home late, breaking that antique whatcha-ma-call-it your mother has had since the dawn of time which holds value for some reason, or even “forgetting” to brush your teeth (that was my go to). Now, think back to how hard you tried to keep that hidden. It never mattered how many precautions you seemed to take, somehow, some way, your parents would always find out as if through magic. I’m sure few of us even assumed that our folks had sorcerous powers of any variety but the always inevitable failure of our escapades raised eyebrows higher than seemingly possible. Some say that there are still eyebrows above the skyline to this day. The truth is though that kids are garbage tenants that seem to leave destruction in their wake, so it became the parents job to know everything that their child was doing at all times... like a spy. Double-O Mom. The house police. Cracker down of “house illegal” activities. If the crappy things we did as kids were actually against the law we’d all be serving a solid twenty-five to life. With no video games.

In Beholder you play as the parent... errrr, landlord of a crappy run down old apartment building in an unnamed country (it’s totally Russia). The totalitarian state has put you in charge after the old landlord failed to play ball to their liking and want you to whip the place into shape all cloak and dagger style. Beholder is a game thick with difficult moral decisions about how to treat people, how to talk to them and how to keep tabs on them. You have to balance when to keep your mouth shut and when to spill the beans on tenants for illegal activities. You can break into living quarters to gather dirt on the people in your building, or install cameras, or if you prefer, just peek at them through the key hole. Every action you take has a consequence that you’ll have to navigate in your own way or pay the price. If you aren’t careful, you just may end up dead.

As a rule, I avoid playing games that are going to stress me out. What are games supposed to be if not fun? Every now and then, one catches you by surprise and isn’t the kind of game you were expecting. I’m also a sucker for side-scrolling styled games, so I fell right into the trap. Beholder throws you right into a pile of peoples problems that you inevitably get tangled up in by either acting, or not acting, when they approach you. What a nightmare. As it turns out, dystopian Russia has a bunch of super dramatic people with no common sense. Playing through this title gives you an immediate feeling of weight which will continue to grow as you proceed. If you don’t get enough of worrying about the bills in real life, then this is the game for you.

When the game opens up you’ll be made immediately aware of your work desk (which we’ll get back to later) and the phone in your office. This phone is your direct line to the “Order”. From this phone you’ll receive directives from up high on how to proceed with the people living in your abode. These directives are usually along the lines of finding out dirt about your tenants or kicking them out of the building. If you successfully complete an Order directive you will be rewarded, but if you don’t... you don’t. The tools at your disposal for going about your directive are many. The first tool you’ll be taught how to use, and what will be your staple in many cases, are security cameras. Security cameras can be bought in game using a reputation currency that you earn essentially by being a good boy and doing what you’re told. Cameras can be placed on the ceiling in any room of the apartment building on specific nodes that look a little bit like smoke alarms. Public access rooms are easy installs for your security cameras, but for the good stuff, the apartments units, you’ll have to break in.

When you interact with a door in Beholder you are given three options; Unlock, Spy, and Knock. Unlocking the door is as it suggests. By unlocking a tenant’s door you’ll be able to roam around their living space to install cameras and search their furniture for outlawed possessions. Of course people don’t like finding you rummaging through their underwear drawer, so doing these things while they aren’t home and getting out before they return is your best course of action. Spy is your second option and is critical in the early game for determining if it’s safe to proceed before you have many cameras set up. Spy has you take a lean over to peek through the key hole of the chosen apartment unit. If anyone is home after looking through, you’ll see them. Your final door option is knocking. If somebody you need to talk to is home, knocking will have them answer the door.

Proceeding through Beholder sees a number of things happen in the games “real time”. Periodically there will be new laws passed that make having certain items or doing various activities become illegal. Having cameras set up and actively peeking in on your tenants will make finding the people living under you doing these things much easier. When you catch someone in the act, you’ll be prompted with a button press to take note of the action. Slowly, you’ll build up a profile for each of the people in your building filled with both interests and evidence against them. A number of things can be done with this information. When you sit down at your work desk you can write a profile, a report or a blackmail letter. Blackmail letters are a good way to get cash quick in exchange for compliance. Profiles filled with activities, interests, and habits can be written up in exchange for money as well. The government likes to know what its people are up to at all times and pays you well to fill them in. Finally you can write up a report using evidence you’ve gathered. If filled in correctly, a report results in the police coming to search for and take away a troublesome tenant.

Most completed actions result in a pay out of both money, and the earlier mentioned reputation currency. While the reputation currency lets you pick up items that make your job easier, money does everything else. Many of your tasks along the way have some kind of cost associated to them, from getting candy for your daughter, to paying one tenant to help another out. In many cases you have only two options for acquiring specific goods. The first option is theft. While sifting through the belongings of your apartments residents you can choose to lift the items that you find. Of course missing items don’t go unnoticed and doing this too much can land you in a bad place. Your second option is the black market. Once every twenty-four hours a man in a top-hat comes to hang out in front of your building to sell exotic and sometimes forbidden goods. These can be expensive, so spend wisely. ...Actually, there is a third option. When you have a tenant removed from your building for illegal activities, all of their belongings are left in a box outside of their door for a while. If they had something you need, you can take it from there free of charge.

The art style works well not only in its simplicity, but in the message it conveys. Beholder follows along the same lines as Limbo before it. Characters are black silhouettes with white borders to distinguish them from the background. Each of the many characters have unique silhouettes, but their drowned out appearances scream out that this is not a “happy” game, or a happy place to live for that matter. The building environment that you play in is more detailed, but it’s been made out to be dirty and run down. Toned down and somber background music solidify the atmosphere of Beholder to complete the dystopian package. Music changes are distinct and noticeable, and usually signify that something is happening. A good example is when the police come knocking, so does a frantic score.

Managing all of your options and being able to think on your feet are key to success in Beholder. Scenarios rarely play out in the best possible way and sometimes solving a problem can lead to having your next problem be even more difficult to overcome. One such thing happened to be in my play through. Having been burned by a previous deal with another tenant, I told the doctor in my building to solve his own spousal problems. I didn’t want to be involved. So, he up and left the building leaving the trouble causing girlfriend behind. The next day my daughter fell ill and needed a doctor. With no doctor in the building anymore I got slapped with a $30,000 bill for her cure.

Beholder is an absolutely unique experience and made me feel all sorts of ways I didn’t necessarily want feel about a video game. It was both stressful, but rewarding. It made me think quickly and gauge priorities. It’s a game that makes you understand that not everybody is going to have a happy ending, and that it’s within your power to choose who goes to jail and who stays free. If you’re up for a challenge then I recommend you give this game a go. It may not be for everyone, I’m not even sure it’s for me, but you’ll never know the outcome of something unless you give it a shot.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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