Beholder is a story-driven game, set in a grim, dystopian future where a totalitarian State controls every aspect of private and public life. Laws are oppressive and privacy is dead, and after the previous landlord of an apartment building gets 'disposed of', the State appoints you as the new manager. You, your wife, your son, and your daughter move in to the basement of the complex, comprising of six apartments in total. Your job is to maintain and restore the complex, but it is quickly revealed that being a landlord isn't your only job.
After moving in, you are immediately tasked with installing a camera in the apartment of one of your tenants in order to spy on them, but it doesn't end there. Your superiors demand you keep track of all your tenants in order to scope out the rebels opposing the State. With laws getting extremely strict (for example, eating an apple is forbidden and at one point even owning a rubber duckie is a serious offence), it is only a matter of time before every person is considered a criminal.
From the office in your basement, you can closely monitor all of the apartments you have installed cameras in. Your office also allows you to profile and report tenants and store files with any and all evidence you have against them. The phone in your office is in direct contact with the State, who will contact you with tasks such as profiling, spying, or removing tenants. The State will provide you with one or two primary tasks, but tenants or your family may have requests for you as well.
Every piece of information you gather about your tenants will be instantly rewarded with cash from the State, as well as reputation points. Even when tenants are not on the radar (yet), it is still encouraged to gather information on them. With laws getting stricter by the day, it's only a matter of time before they too will law breakers.
You can gather information by simply talking to and getting to know other residents, but that alone won't suffice. If you really want to know what goes on in their lives, you're better off breaking into their homes when they aren't there and rummaging through their belongings. Or, if you want to make it even easier, install a camera or two. The money you earn will allow you to buy better spyware, or it can be put towards maintenance of the apartment building.
Each play-through will be different depending on the choices you make. You will always start with the same initial tenants, but after the tutorial you are given the freedom to take the story in any direction. For example, after evicting tenants or restoring empty apartments, you get to choose which person will move in next.
Each tenant comes with a unique storyline where your choices affect the outcome. Stories are certainly immersive, but after playing through them a few times they may feel a bit limited, and these things are simply unavoidable. We feel that randomised events and outcomes would free up the game a bit more, however.
Initially coming off as a rather humorous point and clicker, the choices you will have to make will start to question your morality. Will you orphan younger residents by ratting out their father? Will you closely follow the law as dictated by the State, even when that means losing your own humanity? What comes first: your family or your country? Perhaps you grow to like some tenants, but are they to be trusted? Does the State truly have the best interest of their citizens in mind?
You can be as good or as bad as you want, serving the State or aiding your own rebellious cause as much or as little as you wish. If you do decide to disobey your superiors, the State will dispose of you without so much as batting an eye when they find out. If they find out, that is. If you choose to serve the country, you'll have to get good at being bad. Besides recording, eavesdropping, and even breaking into the homes of unsuspecting tenants, you can even blackmail them or plant evidence in their room.
If you have thrown all empathy overboard, you can even frame the mother of your children to gain reputation with the Motherland.
If the State deems you a rebellious criminal, you will get arrested and killed, thus ending the game. Beholder auto-saves after every quest, allowing you to pick up from your last save and change your choices in order to attain a better outcome.
We quickly discovered how deviously difficult the game gets without an option to save manually, however, as you could face a death penalty for as little as writing the wrong number on a report. Not being able to save whenever you please can be frustrating when dying means losing progress, but above all it limits players easily picking up the game. A quick go is out of the question when you can only auto-save.
The aesthetics of the game accurately correlate with the overall atmosphere. All characters are depicted in solely black, reminding us of the style seen in Limbo. The dark, bleak and almost colourless environment adds to the feeling of a world devoid of happiness, freedom, and hope. The daily newspaper filled with propaganda and the all-seeing eye you have over the apartment building further enhances the daunting feeling that Big Brother is always watching. Most befitting the theme, a truly happy ending is out of the question.
Beholder is an interesting game which starts off as an amusing management sim before absorbing you into its riveting story, and it probably won't be long before you're questioning your own humanity thanks to the decisions it has you making. Every choice has a consequence, and even avoiding having to make important decisions is a choice. In no time at all you will be trying to juggle family life, landlord duties, and avoid assassinations, all the while serving your country.