Beholder is an indie title developed by Warm Lamp Games set within a dystopian totalitarian world. You and your family are moved by the state to a dilapidated yet tenanted apartment complex in which your character Carl Stein has been appointed landlord.
However, Beholder is set in a paranoid and watchful world, so your duties extend further than asking for rent each month and not claiming responsibility for a leaky tap. As the landlord it is your duty to the state to spy on your tenants, report any criminal activities all while maintaining the building.
What struck me straight away with Beholder was the unique and in many ways minimalist presentation of both the characters and the location the player interacts with. The characters are all dark silhouettes which is not only a way of setting the game apart on a visual level from other games, but also a commentary on how life in this totalitarian state has left them all as shadows who’s only purpose is to serve their state. The dark, dreary colour scheme of the world is also in keeping with the tone of the game, showing players straight away that this world is a miserable one.
However, all this stylistic doom and gloom in now way lessens the enjoyment I found playing Beholder. Influenced by dystopian writers such as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, I found Beholder to be a very engaging and interesting playing experience and one that definitely rewards attention from the player. In terms of gameplay I was reminded of Fallout Shelter in regards to its visual layout and way of viewing the apartment complex and also the fantastic indie title Papers, Please, which is another great title about maintaining order in a fascistic totalitarian world. What both Beholder and Papers, Please share is the same range of moral ambiguity in play, giving you the opportunity to follow the harsh rules of the state so that your family can survive, or alternatively keeping your tenants safe, potentially jeopardising the safety of your own family.
Morality is an aspect which is often played out in games when giving players choices which can impact what happens next, and I feel that this was done to good effect in Beholder. What I particularly enjoyed also was that in addition to keeping the surveillance of your tenants you also have duties to fulfil as a father and husband, carrying out errands and jobs for your family. This was a nice addition to the game so as not to make the experience to monotonous with just a focus on spying. This also made the characters more human by having their own personal problems to deal with, which was integral to making the game as engaging as it is.
Although I feel that there could have been more in the way of gut wrenching moral decisions to be made, I cannot fault the game overall as my experience with Beholder has been a positive one. Its visual style and character presentation is minimalistic without losing any detail, it’s an engaging and enjoyable playing experience and it also offers different endings which makes this a title that could be enjoyed for more than one playthrough. Big Brother is watching, and if they have any sense they’ll buy themselves a copy of Beholder too.
By James Burch