In a city governed by a totalitarian state, you play as Carl, one of the government's trusted members who, together with his wife and two children, relocate to a new tenancy. By order of the state, you’ve been tasked with spying on tenants to ensure that they're following the letter of the law, and you must punish those who aren't. How you choose to use this position of power is up to you, but fail the state’s requests, and it’s game over.
From the offset, Beholder: Complete Edition strikes all the right notes aesthetically. Its grubby dystopian atmosphere renders a perfect setting for such an environment, with a clear influence from George Orwell’s 1984 and other novels of its ilk. With each tenant you employ, you’re given the opportunity to learn more about them and their history, and with this valuable information you can choose to profile or blackmail them, or use it to help them with other more personal deeds.
Each tenant that moves in comes with their own unique quirks and personalities that help keep the narrative afloat, and even though they are non-speaking NPCs, you'll want to learn more about who they are and their history.
Beholder is a mix of stealth and strategy. Offering little hand-holding throughout, the game relies primarily on you devising your own personal strategies. Difficult decisions lie ahead, whether it be choosing to help a family flee the capital or opting to save up money to stop your son from being expelled from university. It’s a world driven by a sense of control and order, being able to pause is a godsend in these situations, allowing you time to rethink your strategy if needs are.
Over time, you'll acquire tasks that you’ll have to balance, with the state list being the main priority. It's a continual moral struggle as you personally decide how to prioritise each task, some of which can lead to some mischievous but enjoyable missions to carry out. Whether it be planting banned material in tenants' homes in order to get them evicted or scripting blackmail letters in return for money, these are among the most memorable moments in the game.
Unfortunately, the game could benefit from a little more variety, as the options available to you can start to feel repetitive. Luckily, there’s little time to dwell as you’re constantly forced to explore your next objective.
With this in mind, Beholder tends to favour players who work with the system rather than against it. Prosecuting tenants results in more money, and more money means you can make quick repairs to rooms and spare cash for other amenities. This is a cake walk in comparison to being the tending tenant, which often involves stretched out tasks that take far too long to finish. It feels like an unfair process, especially with the pressured demand to make money in a hurry. Still, providing you accommodate the game's rhythm and keep a watchful eye on the clock, you can master the art of time-management and make progress. Being able to raid a tenant's valuables when they're not at home is certainly pleasing, though you’d have to steal a lot of items to make some of the game's outrageous financial requests.
Whichever direction you take, there are a variety of outcomes available. This can work to the game's detriment at times, especially when it attempts to showcase the weight of your decisions but ultimately falls flat.
The Complete Edition comes bundled with the DLC Blissful Sleep, a short two-to-three hour expansion to play after the main campaign. Set in the same location with a new protagonist, it serves up some interesting missions, such as collecting DNA evidence on all of the tenants. Though it's an adequate add-on, it doesn’t really do anything revolutionary with the formula, and moreover, doesn’t feel confident enough to explore the game's dystopian themes further.
Beholder: Complete Edition is a fun strategy game. Its gorgeous yet subtle dystopian aesthetic illustrates a totalitarian world on the brink of revolution, with an interesting set of characters and soundtrack to boot. But while it’s geared towards player agency, it can feel like you're under the thumb of the state more often than not, and that means you may feel forced to walk a path you didn't necessarily choose.