Depressed friends, hello. You are immersed in the heart of the worst dystopia. Greatly inspired by George Orwell’s famous 1984, Beholder puts you in charge of Carl Stein, the happy owner of an apartment building. Happy? It will depend on you, your choices and your political vision. Because the life of your tenants as well as that of your family depends entirely on you!
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU
You take the bus, over god knows what distance, as you carry your letter of appointment while your six-year-old girl plays quietly with her stuffed bear. It is almost beautiful. Everything could have been perfect in another context. As soon as you arrive at your building, you attend the muscled and relentless evacuation of the former owner. Regarded by the Ministry of the Order as too soft and inactive in regard to his duties towards the government, he is sent to the bottom of some hole for eternity. The message is clear: obey and live, oppose and die.
WAR IS PEACE
You now run a building with six apartments and your official mission is to spy on your tenants in order to track out opponents of the regime and rebels of all kinds. For this, various actions and tools are available to you: surveillance cameras, a master key and even a drug that eliminates the need for sleep. The government – which never commits a fault, it goes without saying – regularly issues directives prohibiting the possession of certain objects or the performance of certain actions. For example, it is illegal to own a weapon at home or to print anti-government leaflets. And if the title is fundamentally dark in all its aspects, some of these directives can get a chuckle out of you, such as the ban on eating fish or apples. It is therefore necessary to regularly search every corner of the building to find prohibited objects and spy on neighbors to detect illegal actions. Added to this are authorized objects and actions that can still attract government attention.
After spying on a neighbor, there are several options: do nothing, write a report, make a profile, or blackmail the person. To write a report is to denounce the violation of a directive. To do this it is necessary to provide evidence (the wrong object found in the apartment or the prohibited action perpetrated by the person targeted). In order for the report to be accepted by the Ministry of the Order, all information must be rigorously accurate. Namely the name of the person, his apartment number, the directive violated, the date of issuance of the said directive and finally the proof. If the report is accepted, a police patrol picks up the unfortunate tenant who will never be seen again and you receive a reward. Otherwise, a fine of $100 (which is a small amount) is immediately sent to you. It should be noted that some characters cannot be arrested (under government protection).
Establishing a profile works in much the same way but here it is not a question of denouncing a violation of the law but of sending a file to the Ministry. It is here that legal and unusual objects and actions are reported to the Ministry. Finally, the last option is the most lucrative: write a blackmail letter. Instead of informing the Ministry, one can simply warn the neighbor that he has been caught breaking the law and demanding a sum against silence. This system is interesting but unfortunately without much logic. Thus, the characters protected by the government (a general propagandist for example) give way to blackmail while they can not be arrested.We would have liked the tenants to be more cautious and smarter.
Some transgressions from your part are also allowed, as long as they serve the government
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
What makes the game so great is that it does not stop there. Because not only can you decide the fate of tenants by denouncing or protecting them, but you can also steal objects and place them in any apartment to frame them. The more greedy players will simply elect to sell them. At this level, we are free as the air. However, the game is not limited to that. Each character has his own personality and all have different needs. They regularly propose missions that we can accept or refuse most of the time. It is for example to get an object, to ensure that the protagonist leaves the country, etc. Some characters are openly in favor of the government, while others oppose it or are neutral.
Added to this are the needs of your family, which almost always translate into money to spend. But in addition to dollars, Carl has another “currency”: his reputation. Unfortunately it does not influence the actions and speeches of other characters. Pity. In this regard, another disappointment of the same kind is related to the search of an apartment. If a tenant catches you in his house, he will order you to go out as soon as possible and … that’s all. There is a tooltip that appears above him and that seems to show a loss of esteem towards you but it finally has no impact. Stealing, however, is a different story. At some point, you might get caught by the police, ending up having to pay a fine or bribe them with reputation points. Should you get caught again, your only options will be bribing them or being punished (aka violently beaten up, which translates into a loss of money in medical fees).
Some special events happen during the game: special tenants move into your home, a bomb is hidden somewhere in the building, your daughter gets sick, and so on. It will be best to always manage all these hazards before everything else, and sometimes extremely complex moral choices will stand in your way. To pay for your daughter’s overpriced medication within the allotted time, the easiest and most viable way is to fabricate evidence against neighbors to earn the reward for their deportation, or to blackmail them. Especially a neighbor who has saved your son’s education by offering you economics textbooks or the doctor who prescribes the drugs you need… Almost every action of the game questions your moral sense.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
It would be easy to be a dark scum who sways everyone. But it is not that simple. For the Ministry of Order also adds a rebellious group, which creeps in without you asking in your life. Like the Ministry, they will give you missions, ask you to lodge tenants by turning a blind eye to their activities and even push you to murder. It’s up to you to see if you prefer to stay in the ranks or if you want to embrace freedom. Your choices have consequences. And if on the whole everything is coherent, we can sometimes regret a random logic. One can understand that it is better to avoid annoying a soldier or a 21-year-old who hangs weapons everywhere. On the other hand, we deplore the fact that a 65-year-old librarian is killing you with a punch just because you admit to having destroyed books in the past …
Another damaging point is the fact that the game is scripted. Of course we have the right to play almost freely (nothing prevents you from spending your time searching while ignoring certain missions). But the same tenants arrive in the same order. The same important characters are present at each party, with the same needs and the same events occur tirelessly. However, because of the many possible choices, several radically different issues are playable. And even if everything is predictable, the scenario is extremely hard and it is better not to focus on the characters because they often do not fizzle .
As for graphics, it’s very simple, very clean but also very pretty. The morose and oppressive atmosphere of the totalitarian regime is very well transcribed. Even if it pours into the absolute clichés (it rains all the time and it is always dark), one really believes in it. The particularity of the title lies in the design of the characters: totally black and white. Only the contrast between these two colors gives shapes and a singular appearance to each character. The artistic direction deliberately plays on darkness and full light. Because the only way to find an illegal action is to see it (either via a camera placed in a fire detector or by peeking at the interior of the apartment through the keyhole).
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The sound further enhances the gloomy atmosphere of the title. The music is quiet (except that played in the presence of police) and it works very well. Sad and slow, it perfectly describes the state of mind of the residents of your building. Beside that, the overabundance of sound effects gives a funny and lively side to the title. However, no dialogue is audible (except vague incomprehensible sounds, comparable to the Sims), as if humans could not or did not want to express themselves.
Beholder is a UFO in the video game landscape. Typically the kind of independent game that we discover at random but which we hang on right away. With its small defects and great qualities, the game has everything to keep you glued for hours. If the gameplay seems repetitive, it is not. The missions are linked together, the choices become more and more difficult. Only your morality can guide you, but know that it will face the consequences at one time or another. The game is well worth the price and it would be a shame to miss.