Following its console debut on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One earlier this year, Beholder: Complete Edition has now brought its harrowing mish-mash of genres over to the Nintendo Switch too. I mean, we’ve all wanted to run a beat-down apartment block in a totalitarian State on the go, right? Well now you can. It’s the ‘Complete Edition’ too, meaning you’ve also got the additional DLC campaign ‘Blissful Sleep’ to add to the core experience.
Beholder puts you in the shoes of a man who has been employed by the State to manage and look after an apartment block full of interesting folk. Oh, and this doesn’t just mean ensuring it’s kept ship-shape and that its inhabitants are happy – it also means spying on them, finding out their secrets, and then reporting them back to the State so that these folk can be ‘dealt’ with. It’s a pretty bleak premise in itself, but the fact you’ve also got to look after your family and handle the strict objectives that the State sets for you makes it even more troubling.
The game also just so happens to start off with the previous apartment manager getting beaten and dragged out of the building in front of your arriving family, so yeah, that’s a pretty obvious sign to the player that if they don’t do their job correctly there’s going to be trouble. It can sound pretty distressing and the game certainly doesn’t shy away from dark themes, but at least it pulls things together to make for a unique gameplay experience.
Beholder’s gameplay offers a blend of strategy and stealth as you look to explore the apartment block and interact with it in a myriad of ways. This means setting up spy cameras, rifling through drawers, questioning the tenants, and ensuring you’re doing every task that is asked of you by the State.
Find something particularly tasty out about a tenant? Do your job and report it to the State… or blackmail them and get yourself some extra money. Have a tenant who’s making your life hard? Plant some contraband in their room and dispose of them in a nefarious scheme. Beholder is a dark game anyway, but how you decide to act whilst managing the apartment is up to you – you’re never forced to play in a particular way and there’s a nice amount of freedom in how you decide to deal with the objectives you’re given. It doesn’t matter how you make your money, as long as you’ve got enough to pay for your family’s well-being, the apartment block’s necessities, and to keep the State happy.
The tenants that you’re looking after (aka spying on) are a unique bunch and each one brings their own personal touch to the experience. Some might be innocent, some might be criminals, but they all have their own stories that you’re able to be a part of depending on your actions – you’ll essentially determine if they have a happy or a sad ending. You don’t always have to follow the State’s demands after all, and if you decide you want to help someone out as opposed to exposing them you can do just that. It’s not always the easiest way to approach the game, but hey, at least it’ll make you feel a little bit better about yourself.
Whilst I enjoyed interacting with the cast and learning more about their lives, the game’s dark graphic style often made it hard to differentiate them. The cast is all made up of silhouettes after all and whilst some do have some stand out traits to let you know who they are, actually keeping track of them and their characteristics could be tricky. It might not sound like a big problem, but it eliminates some sense of the game’s identity – plus, it’s something that’s problematic when you’re trying to sneak through their rooms undetected only to realise you’ve mistaken one tenant for another.
As mentioned, you decide how you approach your actions in Beholder – do you stay loyal to the State throughout or do you take a kinder approach and help out the poor citizens that are being hounded by them? You’re often given multiple objectives or ways to handle a situation and the freedom in how you decide to deal with it certainly adds a more personal touch to the whole experience.
However, this has its flaws too, especially since playing the role of the ‘bad guy’ is more rewarding than helping folk out. It’s all well and good being nice to others and trying to help them make a better life, but when it results in the player not earning enough cash to complete their primary objectives or even look after their family you can be left in a pretty bad place. There are multiple endings on offer and there’re plenty of different routes to take in the game, but actually uncovering them can make the game more difficult (and subsequently less enjoyable) to play.
It can all get a little repetitive too. I enjoyed the whole dynamic of spying on the tenants and finding out more about their lives, but once you’ve done it for a few hours you pretty much see all that it has to offer. You just end up doing the same things over and over, with the most satisfying moments of Beholder simply being found in the story and the dark turns that it takes. Add to that the fact that the challenge of playing the good guy doesn’t always feel rewarding from a gameplay perspective, and you’ll quickly find yourself in a cycle of doing the same things over and over just to progress in the game. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t do anything bad, but it did little to keep me engaged enough in the game to want to come back and work towards every little story arc that it has to offer.
Developer: Warm Lamp Games
Publisher: Curve Digital, Alawar Entertainment
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux