‘Everything your tenants do is your business.’ These are the wise words, you, a man called Carl Stein, are told by your new boss as you are handed the keys to a 4 floor apartment building. You are ordered to watch all of your tenants and report on anything and everything you see, after arriving into your new job in the year… you guessed it… 1984.
In this indie 2D point and click adventure game, created by Warm Lamp Games, you are immediately informed that you, Carl, are taking over from the previous landlord who was removed due to lacklustre performance in the eyes of your new boss. This gives you an early clue as to what could happen if you fail in the eyes of your glorious leader. To survive by any means necessary is your objective; and if that means making some tough choices, well get ready to make some. In order to perform the will of the motherland, Carl is injected with a drug which means he doesn’t require sleep. By day and night you must find out as much information about your tenants as possible; sneaking into their apartments; rummaging through their possessions; asking tenants about each other; spying through keyholes and using CCTV. All this helps you to paint a picture of what your tenants are like and in turn, Carl is to report findings to the ‘Ministry’.
People’s habits and possessions are your main concern because all illegal items or activities are to be reported. These illegals are set out throughout the game via issued government directives which can provide dark yet amusing results from the banning of apples, to prohibition of rubber ducks. For any information or arrests you are reasonably rewarded in money and influence. If you rapidly need more money, stealing is a great way to acquire some – as long as you’re not caught (which isn’t very often, or at all, unless you’re paying no attention whatsoever. I found myself at times wanting to be caught just to see what would happen). Influence and money help you buy cameras in order to spy on your tenants, or other items which may be of use to Carl. A fairly obvious tip here is to not run out of money, as I did. The ‘Ministry’ do not take kindly to those who can’t pay their dues.
Various missions guide you through the game. These missions are interesting and witty, and certainly challenging early on as it is easy to get bogged down if you don’t keep on top of things. Yet once you get the hang of it, which is quite quickly, they can become effortless. Missions vary from ‘Ministry’ tasks, to helping tenants in need or your family. The ramifications can be devastating for you or your family if success isn’t achieved in the time required. Moral dilemmas are the fuel of the gameplay and influence the outcomes of your missions. I blackmailed a shady tenant for reading a book (don’t worry, you’re safe to keep reading) for money and then went on to report him for having an apple in his room which I conveniently placed there. Subsequently he was taken away by the police. After finding both Carl’s (my!) wife and young daughter breaking the very same law against reading, I found myself considering the same for them! SPOILER ALERT! (and yes I did it…don’t judge me!) – reporting your daughter doesn’t end well. At least though, it made me think that at least this totalitarian regime has some standards).
After reporting tenants, the police routinely roll up outside the front of the apartments. Usually arrests take no longer than one or two minutes, where distinctly “baddie” music will blare out of your speakers (clearly the favourite tune of the government). In my play-through however, I found this to be a little buggy. I reported someone to the police whom I saw crying (yes, crying was made illegal…), but only after he decided to leave the apartment. This meant that the police unfortunately rolled up as the tenant was packing up his things. He walked past both policemen, who clearly were decidedly confused and let the man get on the bus. The two police thugs stood about for the next 20 minutes, with the intense music still making me on edge. In the end I had to load a previous save and repeat the process, this time just letting him leave. But maybe I was just being bitter, trying to get him arrested before he left!
Beholder delivers on the main dystopian elements you would expect and it achieves what it sets out to do. Its simplistic setting of only the grim, dimly lit apartment building that looks like it’s falling down, creates a dark and atmospheric feel. Its simplicity is definitely one of its strongest features. With its storyline you will have a few hours of enjoyable gameplay. Although, ultimately, it is only a few hours that you will spend playing Beholder. Any outcome which you don’t like or are particularly unfortunate, are easily correctable in a second play through and as a result there is therefore a lack of variety to justify more, even if you play your second on the increased difficulty setting. The ending also lacks the impact that really makes you feel like the time spent playing was sufficiently rewarding, but it did take me a couple of times to get an outcome I enjoyed and that wasn’t ending up dead!