Have you ever wondered if the small choices you make in life ever have lasting effects? Like if had chosen to keep someone’s secret would that other woman still be alive? Beholder: Complete Edition places these choices in your hands and lets you watch those decisions ripple through time.
Beholder: Complete Edition puts you in the shoes of a newly appointed landlord, Carl Stein. During Stein’s last physical the government injected him with a drug that lets him function without sleep. Why would they do such a thing you might ask? While Carl might seem like a regular landlord to his tenants, his true purpose is to spy on said tenants and inform the government of any and all questionable behavior. Backed by the power of the totalitarian regime, Carl must keep up appearances while trying to serve a higher purpose, and if he fails? Well, there will always be some other schmuck that wants to move up the ladder.
Carl moves himself and his family into the complex. The first thing is to get acquainted with his new tenants. At the start of the game, there are only 3 out of 6 apartments being rented. The other three can be repaired and can host new people or families within a few minutes of playing if you like. In Carl’s basement apartment there is a far room that is dedicated to surveying his unaware dwellers. The government will constantly send Carl tasks to complete. They start out as getting to know the people living in your building or questioning other tenants to gain more insight into a specific tenant. Things quickly escalate, however, and before I knew it I was having to make the hard choice of trying to evict a seemingly nice old man for reasons undisclosed to me.
It is here that your decisions begin to have weight behind them. I flat out told my resident that I was going to need to evict him, then when he asked why I chose to conceal that it was the government forcing my hand. Instantly that closed any and all potential future engagements with this character, and evicting him became 10 times harder. I then had to rely on my surveillance gear my own perception to catch him in the act of doing something illegal. To elaborate, during your time with Beholder, the government will constantly send out new, updated laws that must be adhered to and reported on. These rules can be anything from tenants not being allowed to own weapons, to “it’s illegal to eat fish”, I swear to god that is a real thing.
Having to routinely check this ever-growing list of can and cannot’s kept the gameplay constantly mutating. When you eventually find a tenant not adhering to the motherland’s rules, you gather intel, fill out a report and submit it to the higher-ups. Within minutes, two burly looking officers enter the complex and you get a front row seat to watching that fish eating, jean wearing (there was a law against them too) scumbag get carted away. In this dystopian society, you either play by the rules or one day you don’t come home. This is the way of life that rapidly becomes apparent during your time with Beholder.
Thankfully the government has a set of tools Carl can use to keep tabs on his tenants. There are two types of income that help you complete the game’s objectives. Money and reputation (basically). Money lets you buy things like chocolate or medicine which are things needed for the objectives given to you by your tenants. Your reputation lets you purchase things like security cameras that can be set up within the apartments, which lets you more easily spy on your tenants. Reputation can be used for an even more crucial resource though. Buying people’s silence or forcing them to look the other way.
To make things even more exciting, Carl can choose to keep his tenant’s secrets. While I ended up being too scared to find out what happened if I didn’t report someone for listening to loud music, there is a huge chance for replay-ability here. Do you become a rising anti-government leader or do you reap the rewards for playing ball with the dictatorship?
Eventually, your tenants go from the everyday old man, or doctor to more important figures like government officials. This is where the game gets really intriguing. Reporting on the corruption of these figures and watching them get carted away made me feel like I was really making a difference in this bleak world. Oh, that police chief is eating with a fork? Not on my watch!
It isn’t just your tenants you need to worry about though, your family encounters their own laundry list of problems, and some end up taking a pretty dark turn. My son needed books, my wife needed to be appeased with chocolate and my daughter needed medicine because she wasn’t feeling too well. These were just the needs within the first hour of the game, but like all of your other choices, whether you complete these tasks or not has lasting effects on the rest of the game. Out of curiosity, I neglected my poor daughter and let her sickness get worse. The game went on until a cut-scene happened and told me she had died. To make matters worse, there was an ominous bit of foreshadowing stating the rest of my family wouldn’t last the year.
Another instance led to Carl’s death and trapped me in a loop that forced me to start over. This sailor looking character asked me to get people to try his food. After I spread the good word he was supposed to pay me handsomely for my efforts. It turns out, however, that his food was poisoned and it led to a rather grumpy old tenant falling ill. The tenant demanded I make amends for giving him food poisoning, and instead I threw that slimy sailor under the proverbial bus, thinking nothing of it. A few (in game) hours passed and I saw this sailor had an action icon above them. I approached him, expecting to be paid for my efforts, but instead found out that I had tarnished his good name by telling the old man who supplied the bad food. As with any misunderstanding, the sailor took matters into his own hands and shot me dead. There was another foreboding cut-scene and I was returned to the title screen. Sadly my most recent save forced me to encounter this pissed off sailor again and the cycle continued. I was forced to start a new game.
It feels like Beholder intended for this harsh reality check to happen. When I started my new game I viewed things in a much different way and became more self-aware of each and every decision I had to make. It caught me off guard how one little misstep led to my inevitable death, and this was just one example of how my actions rippled across the rest of the game.
Beholder has a rather unique art style, one that I might have looked a bit too hard into. Like any good dystopian dictatorship, free speech and thinking don’t really jive with the societal needs. People become mindless drones that end up being just another cog in the wheel. This is conveyed in-game through the design choices for the characters. Everyone is a black, shadowy blob. Some might be tall, others might have a specific coat or hat that lets you distinguish who is who, but they all share the same overall design. Shades of grey and black make up the backdrop scenery and it feels like it’s constantly raining or overcast outside. These design choices lend themselves to this morose alternate reality the game takes place in and is a nice touch in regards to environmental storytelling.
Aside from the main campaign, the complete edition comes with the game’s “Blissful Sleep” DLC. This shows you the events that led up to Carl’s time in the complex, and places you in the shoes of the previous landlord. While the gameplay remains the same, the DLC offers a new story, tenants to spy on, and objectives to tackle.
Beholder: Complete Edition performs well on the Switch. It’s load times can be annoying but once dropped in the game it performs rather well. Playing in handheld mode can sometimes lead to a crowded screen, but thankfully the menus are hidden behind the right and left bumpers, which frees up a lot of screen real-estate. Overall, the game offers multiple playthroughs for those looking to see all of the endings. Its replay-ability factor is skyrocketed by the sheer number of choices you need to make in the game, and having a god-like control over who lives and who dies becomes more addicting than I care to admit. Like most other games, Beholder feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch and is a welcome addition to my ever-growing library. Whether you’re a fan of sims-like games, or if you just like the feeling of fake people’s lives hanging in your hands, Beholder is a devilishly fun time.