Beholder: A Terrifying Orwellian Nightmare

Beholder is a deeply terrifying look at the concept of an Orwellian nightmare through the lens of a video game.

There’s a question we frequently ask ourselves that we don’t often get a chance to answer.

“If I lived in an Orwellian society or a dictatorship, how would I react to their outrageous demands?”

Now we have a chance to answer this question without living in an actual oppressive dictatorship -- thanks to Beholder, an Orwellian style strategy game developed by Warm Lamp Games and published by Alawar Entertainment. 

You’re tasked with being the new superintendent of an apartment building, and it’s your job to not only keep the apartments up, but to observe your tenants to see if they’re doing anything illegal. This seems like a normal job, but the problem is that you live in a harsh, totalitarian dictatorship. Everything you report about the people in your apartment building can lead to their detainment, all while you’re caring for your family on the sidelines. 

Image Provided in Press Kit.

The way you play Beholder is similar to a point-and-click adventure game, in that it’s entirely controlled by your mouse. Movement, setting up cameras, talking to people or buying contraband; all of this is done with the mouse. Recently, they updated the game to make it controller compatible, but a keyboard and mouse are still the best way to go.  

The entire game is on one screen, and while the environment slowly changes depending on who stays or leaves, you’re going to be on the same screen most of the game. Admittedly, this does get a little stale after a while -- especially during periods where you have to wait and press fast forward. It’s reminiscent of the Sims games at a few points, because you need to wait for someone to do something or leave their house in order for you to interact with them. Sure, you could be watching them, but they’re not always doing something scandalous or illegal which means you may find yourself getting weary of the game after a while. 

The artwork and the music do a good job of creating a dark, moody, deceptively mundane background that you’ll often not expect sudden brutality out of. But you’ll be getting it in spades, considering how often people get beaten in this game for minor insurrections.

Image Provided in Press Kit

Throughout the game, you wander around the apartment building, figuring out stuff about your tenants -- not just through normal means like talking to them, but with cameras you install on their ceilings to see what they’re doing when the lights go out. Then you can look through their keyhole to spy on them directly... and if you’d like even more dirt, you can go into their apartment and rummage through their belongings. From there, you can gather up clues that you can make reports on to the government.

This helps you build a profile of just what kind of people they are and if they’re violating any of the strict rules. Every new piece of information you get gives you a small paycheck, which you need for helping your family stay alive. In Beholder, unlike other games of its kind, you directly interact with your family members and they can give you quests throughout the game. These can range anywhere from buying books for your son, to getting chocolates for your daughter, or repairing the TV. As time goes on however, the needs of your family become increasingly more difficult to care for and you’ll have to make sacrifices in order to keep them alive.

These sacrifices will change the way you treat your tenants – for example, you can plant false evidence on them in order to make a report of their wrongdoing, then have them framed. You’ll often have to choose between your family or your conscience, and the choice ultimately depend on you as a person.

Now, if you don’t want to do that, you could always help out your tenants and do quests for them in order to assure their safety, but that doesn’t guarantee the safety of your family -- or even the tenants themselves for that matter.  The political landscape is constantly changing. So in one minute you may find yourself in everyone’s good graces, but within the next you may find yourself in a chaotic coup against the government.

No one should try to play this game within a single session, because there’s a chance that you’ll make mistakes...lots of mistakes. This is a very easy game to ruin everything in, and since there’s multiple endings and an achievement in place for the main character dying, there’s a high chance that you’re going to be starting over from previous saves quite a bit. 

There are times where you’ll feel as though nothing you do is right and you can get stuck in a fail loop fairly easily, even when playing on the easiest difficulty setting. If you want to be a “good person” and work for the best ending, you’re going to have to go out of your way to do so.  It can get a little grating at times because certain quests won’t pop up when you need them to. And sometimes in a two person household, when you knock on the door in order to get the attention of one, the other one will come to the door instead and you can’t talk to the other one. These are relatively minor issues, but they’re just awful to deal with.

Beholder is a deeply terrifying look at the concept of an Orwellian nightmare through the lens of a video game. It’s not a game you’re supposed to feel good about after playing, but rather a game that makes you think about why humanity does these things to each other. This is not a game for everyone, but if you’re willing to explore the desperation of being trapped in an Orwellian society, Beholder is the game for you.

A copy of this game was provided by the Publisher.

Our Rating
8
Beholder is a deeply terrifying look at the concept of an Orwellian nightmare through the lens of a video game.
Reviewed On: PC
Published Jan. 31st 2017

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