If I were to ask you: can you maintain any relationship without trust? Your immediate answer would be no. They can’t exist without trust. If I were to ask you: could you live without trusting anyone? Probably not. What happens if the country asks you to ignore your morals and suspect everyone? I’m sure all these questions are very uncomfortable and a hard sell.
This is the crux of my experience with Beholder — developed by Warm Light Games and published by Alawar Entertainment available for PC. Beholder starts simple enough; the ministry of the state summons you for a new job.
You’re a new landlord of a building and have to take over things. Being a landlord, however, is a front. Your real job is to gather details on the private lives of your tenants. If they are threats or targets in anyway, you must report them.
This is where the game’s mix of genres come into play. First and foremost as the landlord, you have to manage occasional repairs and tenants’ issues. This aspect of the game is more strategic and organic. Despite what may be happening, this stays constant. This is also how you’ll come close to your building’s residents.
The game takes on more of an adventurous tone during your real job — when you spy on your neighbors, you have choices. You can set cameras, go through their belongings, question them, and so forth. Circumstances allow for more access to tools and methods.
To Warm Light’s credit, playing Beholder triggers a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Honestly, I don’t believe a video game ever made me feel that way. So how do I feel when I’m setting up cameras in the room of an older couple? Not so good.
Someone’s spouse mentions their vice. I wait until they go to work to search through their room. I feel very guilty as I document the illegal contraband. Do I report this? Wait, my daughter requires medical attention. I need the extra money. So I head to my desk and make my decision.
I had to throw away someone’s life for my loved one’s well being. Did I make the right decision? This question lingers in the back of my mind as new orders arrive. A new case arrives, and it requires me to gain another person’s trust and betray it all over again.
What makes Beholder a worthwhile experience is how everything is designed to support its theme. Characters are defined by their black silhouettes. Artistically this makes seeing them as a person a lot more difficult.
The music is mostly solemn and follows the tone of the game. When you’re busying yourself as a landlord/husband, the music keeps the same pace. When you decide to report someone to the police, it changes. The music gets louder and more grandiose as they’re whisked away.
Another layer of Beholder is the matter of choice. There is no clear right path or wrong path. In the hours I spent playing, I’ve seen scenario after scenario result in different events. After spying on someone, he confronts me. At this point, via the dialogue choices, I tell him the truth. In another choice, I forego the truth and choose to threaten him with eviction.
One of these choices resulted in me getting shot in the head. The other choice results in me providing help. No matter what you end up doing, the results will be long lasting. Best of all, it’ll be unknown to you. This adds even more anxiety to everything else you’re experiencing already. You can also choose to go against the orders given to you by the government. Be careful, otherwise it’s game over.
The game isn’t without its issues, but these issues are minor regarding the overall experience. Being a point and click adventure title, at times the game isn’t as immediately responsive as you’d like. There’s also instances where a target overlaps with another. Another minor issue is how vague certain objectives are initially. However over time, they make themselves clear.
The title offers a lot of replay value as there’s no way to know how the repressed people in your building will act over time. Plus, the game holds this “train wreck” factor that’s hard to ignore. How bad can things get? How close to the edge are we?
If you’d like to find the answers and challenge your morals, I highly recommend Beholder. You’ll have an interesting time and develop some serious trust issues with yourself along the way.