Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Beholder

Developer: Warm Lamp Games
Publisher:  Alawar Entertainment

In this interconnected world where every political, international, and minuscule thing is shared via thirty different social media accounts, it really isn't a surprise that privacy and confidentiality are a hot topic. You can't turn on the news without hearing about leaked information, deleted E-mails, and how big is somebody's butt is these days. So it's interesting when a game developer takes these issues head on and translates them into a video game. Beholder has drawn quite a bit of attention because of this and it makes one think about their own privacy; how external forces can affect that.

Beholder is a game about spying on your neighbors. Not because you're a creep, but because your government is asking you to do it for the good of the country. One can see how this already translates into reality in rather terrifying ways. Now this game comes along in the same vein as other games that have had similar political or social commentary, such as Papers, Please or This War of Mine. The trick about these games, at least for me, is that while the message comes through loud and clear that these games still retain a level of enjoyment and don't get preachy to the point where I wanna kill myself. Looking at you, This War of Mine.

Beholder, I am happy to say does accomplish this using a whimsical, if not sinister, art style and fairly easy to grasp mechanics. The story/scope of the game all takes place in an apartment building and between its tenants. Espionage is key and knowing how to use that information you've gathered effectively is the name of the game.

Tackling the story first, Beholder has MANY possible endings, multiple ways to handle a situation and it lends itself to replay and seeing what new outcomes you can get. I would love to say I got all of the endings, but that would take quite a while. You can play the game as a completely evil bastige, who cares for nothing but himself and his family. This is by far the easiest route to be honest. However, being a good person is possible. It's difficult and will have a cost of either money or possibly the life of someone you love. The chips are always stacked against you and the house usually always wins. This is a mindset that is extremely important to bear in mind as you play Beholder. You are battling your morality and the clock.

Hello I would like to talk to you about our savior.....BLAM
To overcome the odds, you are going to have get your hands dirty. Beholder plays with its monotone colors for a reason. Your actions are going to end being shades of grey. Blackmail your neighbor to save your daughter? Steal an illegal firearm to protect a young woman? These are questions you will have to answer quickly and that have immediate consequences. This is Beholder's greatest strength as a game. It mixes hundreds of possible narratives and decisions seamlessly with something new to discover around every corner.

From a functionality standpoint Beholder is on the simple side.(No controller required) You left click with the environment to plant cameras or evidence. Also to discover information about your tenants and make reports. There are two sources of income in the game, one is straight up cash, the main resource, and credibility which allows you purchase more cameras and get out of a jam in certain events/conversations. The game has a decent tutorial that teaches you the basics, but the rest is kind of learned as you go. The most important thing I felt the tutorial ignored was the placement of items inside of other containers. This is vitally important as framing your tenants is key way to make money or get rid of somebody.

While there are many facets that require a bit to wrap your head around, once you do figure it all out it becomes easier to rig the system in your favor. The save system also makes is rather easy to abuse as you can reload often to a previous point if you screw up. Not saying that I did, but the temptation was there on occasion. Aside from that, which is hardly a gripe, Beholder is extremely well put together. I didn't run into any bugs and all the mechanics are easy to understand.

One thing I will say is that the games difficulty can be called into question. Your main problem is never having enough money to accomplish some story related issue. Gameplay itself never really challenges you in the same way something like Papers Please did, where a keen eye was pivotal as more scrutiny was involved with passing people. Beholder is far more decision and story based. Nothing is wrong with that but felt it should be noted. The game does have two game modes, including one that reduces the amount of money/credit you get per action/blackmail etc. This just stacks the chips higher against you and makes decisions more stressful but doesn't change the overall difficulty of the game.

The art style of Beholder is an absolute treat. The game needed to capture many emotions using its black and white sprites, from terror to being adorable. I was utterly amazed by the kaleidoscope of  emotions/tone of the game could shift through. From being stabbed, to giving your wife a candy bar, and an entire range in between. The eyes of each sprite are used effectively and it just spoke to me, the way the characters were all unique in this dreadful totalitarian setting. The apartment itself is drawn well and serves as a nice back drop. It comes off very dreary so it never really caught my attention too much. There are also well illustrated cut scenes that are shown occasionally. While there are plenty of gloomy events in the game such as your daughter dying or tenants leaving penniless, the game rides a fine line but never forgets that its still a game, which to me is as important as the subject matter.

One area I wasn't a huge fan of was the music which does come off very gritty and low key. It matches the over all theme of the game but it just isn't all that pleasant on the ears. It may not be meant to in all honesty, but I found myself just turning it down and focusing on completing tasks. There are some other areas that do well though, sound effects are very well done and there is even a little bit of voice acting that is delivered quite well.

Overall game length is going to vary from game to game due to the branching narrative but the game has high replayability as I mentioned earlier. You're looking at somewhere between two to four hours for one game session. I would say and that all really depends on your familiarity with the mechanics and how you want events to play out. There is a fast forward that does make the game go a hell of lot faster that I would use on occasion. So that may drastically alter your game length as well.

Swear I wasn't going to cry....oh god...
Beholder is a game that makes you think about the ramifications of your decisions. It doesn't get preachy but it doesn't shy away from its subject matter. The game retains its level of fun from beginning to end and I found it to be a very satisfying experience. Games that look to deliver a message on social/political commentary can go wrong in many ways, but Beholder avoids all the pitfalls in style. I believe that the developer was very innovative in the way they tackled this subject matter and I hope to see more games like this in the future. Games are after al,87ul another form of freedom of speech, one that we must not take for granted.

At the low price of $9.99, Beholder is quite a steal if you are looking for a game that has a message but does things in its own way. With Steam cards, achievements and the developer putting out more updates and patches to tackle any issues that arise, I can easily recommend this title. So check the game out, in the meantime I am going to put on my tinfoil hat and check for bugs.

They are always watching...

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