If you’re into anything dystopian in nature,you may be interested in hearing about the game Beholder for PC. The basic premise is very simple: you are given the task of overseeing an apartment building. Where Beholder differs from most games with any similar premise, however, is that this apartment building happens to exist within a totalitarian society. And instead of being tasked with, say, keeping the tenants happy, you are instructed by the reigning government to spy on them in any way possible; the choice to do so or not is entirely up to you, the player.
Shades of gray tend to define the tones of games that question one’s own morality, and often in a more literal sense than strictly figurative. Many games give you nearly free reign over your own choices, such as the Fallout series, and tend to complement their story with a darker palette to match the tone, possibly to give weight to these choices.
While Beholder’s demo gets that palette across beautifully, it both succeeds and fails in answering whether it deserves the weight it tries to carry. It’s a delicate process to give the player choices; most of the time, games compensate the imbalance of easier decision trees by offering players higher rewards for completing the harder ones. But with a game like Beholder, there’s only so much you can offer as reward to the player. That is to say simply, even if the game-play varies a little based on what you decide, it doesn’t feel like your choices really mean anything.
That isn’t to say you should lose interest. It’s important to remember that this is just based on a demo, and the full game may be able to offer more as it progresses. And where it succeeds, it succeeds gracefully. The style is similar to a slightly more colorful version of the video game Limbo; although that’s where the comparison really ends.
The silhouetted figures definitely help convey the duplicitous nature the game tries to offer the player, and the run-down apartment reminds you any time you forget that this is a dystopian society.
The quests, which are essentially strings of puzzles, are interesting. I’d be excited to see them expanded upon in the full version of the game. And it kindly has a fast forward button for you, should you need to wait out tenants that are staying in their rooms too long, or for the merchant to stop by to trade. This definitely helps the game from being overly tedious.
The controls are fairly simple; if you’ve ever played a Sims game, you’re in luck. It would be nice to see some keyboard integration (I’m much more a fan of WASD controls), but it’s not really necessary.
Overall, the game is worth checking out. While its replay value may be questionable, it’s a solid game that will remind you what it was like to imagine George Orwell’s world in 1984. And as long as you remember not to take the game as seriously as the tone suggests, it can be very a lot of fun. As for the moral choices, perhaps it’s that I’m spoiled by other games that offer moral choices in ways that I personally find more interesting and variable. But I loved Mass Effect 3 even before they fixed the ending (don’t judge me), which significantly blundered the same concept in a similar manner- so make of that what you will.
Beholder is available as a demo on steam; the full game will be available sometime this Fall.