In a city governed by a totalitarian state, you play as Carl, one of the government’s most trusted members. At the beginning of the game, we find out that Carl has been notified by the state that he is the new landlord of an apartment block and must move there with his family immediately. The government expect Carl to keep an eye on his tenants, making sure they are obeying the law, and report anyone who isn’t. The game allows you to make your own decisions, each one changing the outcome of the game. You can earn reputation points, manage your own money, and meet a wide range of characters with different personalities along the way. However, how you use your new position of power is totally up to you.
Aesthetically, Beholder: The Complete Edition, is unique. It’s black and white grubby texture is unusual for today’s standards – but it’s what makes the game stand out. It sets the tone for the whole game too – unnerving and unnatural. The eerie, melancholic music that plays alongside this strange environment almost makes us feel uneasy and immerses us in the game. The introduction cut-scene sets the story up and tells us everything we need to know, allowing us, as players, to understand what Carl’s main mission is and what exactly his new job entails.
Each tenant has unique qualities and backstory, which keeps the narrative flowing. Carl can find out who they really are, either by talking to them or by secretly placing CCTV cameras in their rooms, allowing Carl to find out if they are breaking the law or abiding by it. Each tenant sets Carl different missions and tasks, ranging from finding a bottle of whiskey to finding out information about another person. However, the tenants aren’t the only people who set tasks for Carl. The government also set tasks, and if Carl fails them, the game ends.
Overall, the controls are pretty easy once you get used to them. I kept getting the buttons for moving floors and zooming in/out mixed up but after a few hours, I could do it no problem. The only other thing that is quite annoying about the controls is when choosing an object. To search an object/install a camera you have to click the X button, and sometimes when objects were quite close together, it took me a while to find the thing I really wanted to interact with. However, the game makes this a bit easier by allowing players to click the D-Pad in the direction of the object they want to interact with. For me, this made it a bit easier but sometimes I still couldn’t find the object.
The sound of the game is different but good. As mentioned previously, the eerie music makes you feel uneasy and is a constant reminder of the government watching over you. One thing that annoyed me with the sound during the game was the voices of the characters, especially that of Carl’s son, Patrick. His ‘voice’ was a constant rambling of noises, which was actually quite loud compared to the rest of the sound in the game, and I found myself turning my volume down each time I spoke to him or walked close to him.
The game turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected. The choices you make in the game can alter the way it ends. On a few different occasions I found myself ending the game pretty early on, but after this, I had realised the mistakes I made previously and could change them in the next game. So, to progress further into the game you have to play intelligently and carefully and make sure you learn from your mistakes. This makes the game very replayable, as there are a number of different ways you can play it.
The game is a mix of stealth and strategy. A lot of the time playing the game will be spent on thinking what is the best decision to make, and what the outcome will be. Decisions such as choosing to blackmail a tenant or buying chocolate for Carl’s wife can heavily influence the outcome of the game. You constantly feel torn between wanting to befriend these interesting characters and do the best for them or betraying them by either blackmailing them for money by placing illegal items in their room or even sneaking into their rooms to gather evidence against them.
Sometimes tasks can pile up, and should you choose to help your daughter find her missing toy or complete a government task, it is definitely a test of your morals. A good thing is the ability to pause the game, which allows time to think about important decisions. Another positive point is the ability to fast-forward gameplay, as sometimes you find Carl walking quite slow, and the speed up ability can really help getting to a place/person faster.
Sometimes Beholder: Complete Edition seems a bit unfair, but it takes time to understand the workings of the game and it takes a while to master time and money management skills. Some tasks seem simply undo-able, such as finding $20,000 for medicine for your daughter, but it is manageable, it just takes a few tries to get it right. Each time you end the game, whether you’ve been jailed for embezzlement or killed by a tenant – there are different cutscenes, such as a funeral or a police car taking you away with your family watching. I think this is a nice touch and shows the developers have really thought about all the different endings to the game, Instead of just having a black screen with the text ‘YOU HAVE DIED’ or ‘YOU HAVE FAILED’, there are actually scenes that show what happens after you have finished the game, which is interesting, well I think so anyway.
In the games DLC, Blissful Sleep, we are in the same place but with a new protagonist – Hector Medina, the man who Carl Shteyn (the character in the original) succeeded as the landlord. The DLC is good, and the narrative keeps you interested, but honestly? The game feels a bit repetitive, and you find yourself reporting people and filing reports just like the original game. However, there are still difficult decisions to make and many different outcomes.
Overall, Beholder: The Complete Edition is a really challenging strategy game with a great soundtrack and aesthetics to match. The characters are interesting and the concept is unique, and it is obvious that there are clear parallels to George Orwell’s 1984, especially considering the fact that the game is set in that exact year. As enjoyable as it is, sometimes you can find yourself making decisions in order to please the government and not yourself, and end up regretting them further on into the game. It can get annoying at times, but the more you play it the easier it gets, and you realise just how many ways there are to play this game. The game is unique and enjoyable, and it was definitely more difficult than I expected. But there is no doubt I’ll be playing it again.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.