The Best Country in the World!
You are a beholder – a ministry-installed landlord of a war-torn totalitarian state. One that is responsible for everything that happens under your management regardless of how you may feel about those actions. As a loyal beholder, you must gather profiles on your tenants, report any wrongdoings, and strong-arm them into following the government directives (such as the ban of rubber duckies and blue ties). As the game progresses, however, you begin to develop opinions on the state of the regime and wonder whether sticking with the status-quo is absolutely necessary. To make matters more complicated, multiple dissenting groups will do their best to persuade you towards their visions for the future. Who knew spying held so much responsibility?
There are many methods available to help ensure maximum cooperation from your tenants. The first of which requires installing security cameras throughout the apartments. Alternatively, you can just as well look through an apartment door’s peephole to see what may be going on within, but personally, I prefer to casually walk right in with my handy master key. Unfortunately, tenants will not allow anyone to rifle through their belongings with such wanton prejudice, so you must be sneaky about it. Honestly though, searching for evidence of criminal activity is the least of their problems. In fact, if the beholder wants someone arrested, evicted, or blackmailed, why not just plant evidence outright? After all, the beholder is an upright representative of the ministry with authority to act in the state’s best interest – as long as he doesn’t get caught.
Beholder paints a truly immersive world devoid of hope, happiness, or color, rife with propaganda and rebellious behavior. Daily newspapers released by the government have “Voices of Truth” attached to the back countering and revealing dark behaviors concealed by Big Brother. Assassination attempts are a plenty as you discover the alternate lives your tenants maintain. In addition, quest-lines clue you in on the tenants’ problems just as much as your own families. People desire entertainment to distract them from their own problems, but they also need food, bribe money, security, and favors. You are free to straddle the line between honorable ministry representative and revolutionist at will, but understand that no matter how noble your intentions may be, they may lead to unintended harm. Furthermore, Big Brother is always watching.
License to Know
Regarding the actual gameplay, Beholder is a management sim with point & click controls, and it is deviously hard. For the most part, you will be provided one or two ministry/primary tasks, such as “Investigate X,” “Convince X,” or “Kill X,” alongside 3-4 complementary side quests at any given time. Most of these tasks will have a time limit and require socializing, profiling, or blackmailing tenants to proceed. Depending on how you chose to execute these tasks, you may be fined by the ministry or police, and if you become bankrupt, the game will end prematurely. With multiple endings all wildly different from each other, additional playthoughs using differing styles of philosophy and quest progression are needed.
Not Enough Money
After achieving a somewhat “good” ending, I am left with a desire for the implementation of multiple difficulty levels. Although the story and initial playthrough was really fun and immersive, end-game became too money-oriented to care about anything else but retaining what I had and blackmailing as many tenants as I could before a deadline was up. I began choosing certain options solely on the basis of how much I might financially benefit from the situation. The moment I began to think, “I only have $X left, I need to say ‘no’ to everything now,” is the moment Beholder becomes less impacting. Furthermore, certain endings are entirely dependent upon key choices made throughout the game, but many of these key choices all seem to be whether there was enough money to do X.
Having money be so vital to proceed is a bit of a nuisance in Beholder. It makes restarting a save from a game over very immersion-breaking because the knowledge of oncoming charges will force certain choices. This compulsion to do a particular action just for money cripples any emotional consequence in turn. Beholder should continue using the early-game style of having dire and unexpected consequences to impart the psychological agony that would persuade, not force, the player to act in a particular manner. I understand that the developers want to create a sense of harsh, soul-agonizing realism, but the story and world already did a good enough job in that aspect that I wanted to explore certain quest avenues or maintain a specific philosophy but couldn’t. All because of bills and random end-game money barriers.
Even though I feel that Beholder needs to rework its money-centric nature, or add more difficulty/personalization options for it, I still found its unique spying aspect and management sim gameplay fun enough to come back for more. The thrill in having so much control over the tenants is indescribable, and catching someone in a criminal activity is empowering. The detailed world-building, strongly defined tenant characters, and surprising scripts make Beholder a worthy addition in any spy fan’s library.