17 November, 2016

Beholder Review

Beholder is an interesting game that pretends to be more than it is. A simple gimmick of spying on people and surveillance, but with a minimum of actual interaction to go with it. After the first few hours, most of the game is about finding out what the developers planned for you to do and then following the story they wanted to tell you. If you wanted to just spy on people and have a few renters to keep an eye on, you're in the wrong place.

Mostly, Beholder tells you a story. And this story demands that you are a douche to everyone and extort them until they have no money left to give you before forcibly evicting them so you can steal whats left of their stuff and pawn it for spare cash. If you do not do this, you will either be given a game over or your family will die. Multiple times at that. In my one playthrough so far my son has died three times and my wife twice, forcing me to pay for five funerals for two dead family members. Through all this, people still threaten me with hurting my family which already died, and there is a good chance that if I don't go along with it they will dig up the body just so they can kill it again and force me to pay for another funeral.

There is not a lot of choice to be had, there are a few stories, and you have to just follow them. Some stories appear to have multiple paths, but in the end only a few seem to have any effect on others at all. Coupled by a world that appears to be intended seriously but comes off as a satirical joke where people try to one up eachother on cynicism, dialogue options being vague ("Tell me" -200 reputation- Could mean threatening them, right? Nope. It's asking nicely.) and the fact that you don't really get to do that much for most of the time except wait for people to leave so you can rummage through their stuff makes this more suited to something you can watch someone else play rather than something you can play yourself.

Aside from all this, I've found there to be some serious issues with Beholder, family members dying multiple times, the game not recognizing them as dead, the complete lack of manual saving, barely functional tutorial that doesn't even explain the basics right and very harsh penalties on what is essentially trial and error gameplay makes for a sadly unsatisfying experience where I found myself deciding that I was done and got the good ending after a bomb killed everyone in the building.

Graphics are simple, but they are pretty good at what they do. Renters are different enough to distinguish between them and the music works well for most of the game. I don't think it was entirely necessary to hear the basement stove turned on nearly all the time though.

There are good things to be had in Beholder, but it feels very much like they had a story and a single game mechanic planned, and then just jammed them together hoping it would work.
It doesn't, or not very well at least. The start of the game is fairly well worked out and entertaining, but then after that it mainly becomes a hunt for finding the right thing or dialogue you're expected to find while at the same time bringing in renters just to extort them for money. A routine that encourages you to not care about any of your renters, your family, or the game as a whole. And all throughout this everyone will stress how everything is bad without ever having anything good happen.
The game claims your choices have consequences, but the only choices and consequences are "Do as we intended for you to do or you and/or your family will die" with nearly no room for error. Even if you accept the loss of one or two family members you do not have many meaningful choices, seemingly by design.

Take that as you will, but I can not in good conscience recommend it to anyone but those who are the most hyped about spying on people while also being a fan of passive gameplay.

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