Inspired by the likes of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Beholder takes place in a country plagued by a totalitarian regime, but, instead of casting you as the would be hero that over comes your oppressor, you’re just another person trying to get by as a cog in the machine. You play as Carl, the landlord of a small apartment complex in a city ravaged by war. As Carl, you alternate between spying on your tenants, and, assisting them to earn cash while avoiding reprisal. All the while, observing an increasingly absurd list of state-imposed laws and completing quests given to you by various characters of differing interests.
Within your cross-section of a building, you have six apartments and the basement where Carl lives with his family. You make your way around the building, talking to people who live there, sneaking into their apartments while they’re out searching for contraband and installing cameras and maintaining the buildings upkeep. The game takes place entirely within this complex. Other characters will come and go, however, Carl is drugged up on medication that prevents him from sleeping and is forced to focus all of his attention on the six apartments under his control. The game gives you a sense of duality, as the landlord you can save or ruin lives with your interventions, but, you are still limited by the laws of the state.
Missions and objectives will pop up as you play, more often than not with time limits. You need to please the “Ministry”, while also keeping your family happy and healthy. To this end, you complete the tasks handed out to you from the “Ministry”, fulfill requests from both your residents and political dissidents, who will occasionally contact you. This means you will have to make choices with respect to which missions you prioritise or ignore. Beholder is seemingly at it’s best when there is enough going on to overwhelm you. That moment when time is ticking down and you desperately scramble for a way to make money, so that you can buy that critical mission item. Unfortunately, these moments can be separated by long lulls, or irksome moments when you need to speak with someone who is offsite for the day. There are many ways to attend to each mission – though going for the “morally right” decision doesn’t always have a happy ending.
Overall, Beholder is based on a strong concept – at moments it lands well, but it is held back by repetition and an unexciting script. The tediousness doesn’t seem worth while at times, and few people may realise the ultimate goal of saving Carl’s family and escaping their basement life. It has a lot of dark humor that some will enjoy, yet, others will not. If you can make it through the moments of tedium, you will get plenty of game play time out of Beholder. Reaching the best ending on normal difficulty will be a big challenge, but, the game isn’t an especially interesting one.