Does running an apartment building sound interesting to you? Do you enjoy spying on your neighbors? Is being a government lackey for the sake of ruining people’s lives your idea of fun? Then Beholder: Complete Edition may be your kind of game. Even then I wouldn’t recommend it.
On paper, Beholder is the type of game that should appeal to almost any strategy fan. You play as Carl Stein, a government-appointed landlord for an apartment building. While the setting doesn’t disclose which country you’re in, it’s clearly some Eastern European totalitarian state. A government official has ordered you to spy and report anyone in your building who is deemed suspicious or breaking the increasingly strict laws in place.
Gameplay primarily revolves around placing security cameras in your tenants’ homes, profiling their habits, and reporting to the higher-ups. You are given divergent paths which could be something simple like which tenants you let move in. It could also lead to something dire such as choosing whether to evict a tenant or help them escape. You have your own family to be mindful of as well as their needs. And believe me, the family stuff gets DARK.
Paint It, Black
Dark storytelling in games is fine and even welcome in many cases. With Beholder, however, there is a sinking sense of dread that only brings you down lower as you continue playing. Much like its characters, there is no color. Only darkness remains in this grim tale with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. Even making what seems like the “good guy move” can end in tragedy. This is embellished by your character occasionally having moments of whateverism that doesn’t make him relatable at all.
These criticisms aren’t just relegated to the narrative either. Without spoiling important story beats, there will be times you’re faced with a deadline to raise enough money before a major event happens. The amounts of money asked of you can seem daunting, especially when you have so little time to raise it. And since they have such huge consequences attached to them, it can make the play experience feel stuck. Not only that, it pushes you further into hopelessness with the rest of the characters.
Since there are divergent paths, you are encouraged to do repeated playthroughs. This can make repeated sessions feel stale, however, since there are no random elements to speak of. You simply dive in time and again trying to learn what went wrong in one particular part.
Eye Of The Beholder
It’s not all doom and gloom for Beholder, though. The visual style is certainly unique enough despite how much it may remind some of Playdead’s Limbo. The gameplay is also inspiring when first experiencing it for its mesh of strategy, management, and stealth. It’s just a shame that it gets bogged down by the economy when trying to complete key objectives. The controls are serviceable also but will take some getting used to at first.
Beholder: Complete Edition is the kind of game that gets overshadowed by its theme and setting. The dire situations you are placed under with little hope attached gets exhausting and, frankly, depressing. Not all games are meant to represent having a happy-go-lucky time, but the experience of overcoming it should be palpable. That is unfortunately not the case here.
A review code was provided by the publisher.
David has been involved in games media since 2012 running his own blog, YouTube channel, being a founding member of RETRO Magazine, and now as host/producer of ARGcast – Another Retro Gaming Podcast. He also dabbles in voiceover and is occasionally a stunt double for Jude Law.