Several of your apartments require expensive repairs before you can move some new folks in, and the lonely Mr. Shpak, over in number 4, wants you to help him find a partner. On top of that your wife wants you to talk to the neighbours about borrowing a large cooking pot, your son needs a book on economics for his schoolwork, and your daughter wants you to find her doll. Oh, and the Ministry of Order has demanded that you profile the couple in number 1 and find grounds to evict Mr. Schimmer in number 3. This is the life of a state-installed landlord in the grim dystopian reality of Beholder.
Inspired by Orwell, Papers Please, and “oppressive laws introduced by the Russian government” (Warm Lamp Games is a Russian developer), Beholder puts you in the shoes of husband and father Carl Stein. Following the removal of your predecessor, who failed in his duties to the state, you’ve been appointed the new landlord of a Class D apartment block. Ostensibly there to manage and maintain the building, your real task is to spy on the residents for the sinister Ministry of Order. Don’t worry, you’ve been injected with an experimental drug that suppresses the need for sleep, allowing you to spend more time serving your beloved motherland.
Assignments from the Ministry are varied, but typically demand that you profile specific characters or find evidence of subversive behaviour within a set time frame. The residents move around the complex, eat and sleep, chat to one another, and go off to work and school. While they’re out, you can sneak into their apartments to install hidden cameras and rummage through their belongings. By chatting with them you learn their backstories, opinions, and predicaments, as well as potentially incriminating information. They may ask for your help (i.e. side-quests), and how you choose interact with them will affect the story.
Submitting reports and completing quests earns you money and reputation but may also result in the subject being brutalised and taken away by the police, never to be seen again. Be careful though, mistakes can result in fines. The money you earn can be spent on repairing unoccupied apartments, allowing you to move in new people, or buying the things needed by your family and tenants, whereas reputation can be spent on acquiring more and/or better surveillance equipment, or persuading people to do things for you.
Ultimately, it’s a game of time/resource management and difficult decisions. Where do your loyalties lie, with the state and the safety and comfort of your own family, or will you find yourself sympathising with the plight of your tenants? Do you finger the guy who’s helping you with your family’s problems? Can you get away with leaving things out of the reports you submit? How do you raise the $20,000 needed for your daughter’s medical treatment? Do you evict a man who appears to have done nothing wrong? Should you blackmail the woman with the contraband you found in her room? Will you be able to keep everyone happy, or will you share the fate of your predecessor?
From what I’ve played, it’s engaging through provoking, well written, and surprisingly atmospheric, featuring meaningful choices and characters that I found myself genuinely caring about. It sounds bleak and depressing, and to an extent it is, but it still manages to squeeze in plenty of good-natured humour and touching moments.
That said, there was something terribly satisfying about seeing the police drag away another one of those filthy intellectual types, with their dangerous notions about personal freedoms, as the result of my hard work. Plus, it allowed me to buy some nice stuff for the wife and kids. I wonder if I’ll get the ending I deserve?
Beholder is out on Wednesday (9th November), but you can play a free demo now over on Steam.