Whether it’s a good or bad experience, everyone who lives in an apartment building must deal with neighbors. All it takes is one bad tenant or manager and the harmony of an entire building can be disrupted. As someone who recently stopped living the apartment life, I was intrigued by Beholder: Complete Edition, which allows you to play a landlord in a totalitarian State. In this world, your morals quickly clash with the need for money and a good reputation. You will be given strict orders by your bosses and desires from your family, but whether you choose to follow them changes the whole game. Now including the Blissful Sleep DLC mode, Beholder: Complete Edition is packed with people to meet, choices to make and consequences to live (and die) with.
Our story begins with Carl Stein and his family riding a bus towards the city. A letter in your hand reads that you’ve been appointed landlord of the Class D apartment block on Krushvitze 6. Carl never has to worry about fatigue since he underwent an experimental medical procedure that suppresses his need for sleep. Upon your arrival you witness the police escorting a battered and beaten man out of the building. It turns out you are that man’s replacement…and your new bosses, The Ministry of Order, expect better results. Carl is instructed to spy on the apartment residents with the help of cameras and document all suspicious and illegal activity. You are even encouraged to enter their apartments when they leave and rifle through their belongings. In this new dystopian world, possession of common items such as: alcohol, tobacco, certain music and books are jail-able offenses. When you discover a tenant is in possession of contraband, you can choose to handle the situation in a variety of ways, each with its own consequences.
Most people will look at Beholder and immediately recall the game Fallout Shelter. They have a similar look with horizontal rooms and an “ant farm” style view from the side. The player directly controls Carl and can move him all around the building and the street. The ministry will periodically call you and give you instructions for your next mission. They might ask you to collect evidence on a tenant and have him arrested or to convince another tenant to invest his money in a business that benefits the ministry. Smaller quests are given from the tenants, your wife might guilt you into buying sweets for your daughter, or a resident might need you to fetch an item and pay you nicely to do so. Keeping everyone happy is important because tenants can move out if unhappy and your family members can even die if ignored.
Completing tasks typically earns you money, reputation points or both. Money is crucial because you need it to buy cameras that you place in the apartments, repair kits for furniture, contraband and other items. The cameras are important because they allow you to see into the apartments always, making investigations easier and assuring nobody is home when you enter. You also must pay your own bills and your family always seems to have an expensive need that you will feel guilty refusing. Reputation points are best described as your influence in tangible form, they are used for personal gain or persuasion. When someone is kicked out of the building, a box is left on their doorstep for you to take. You can keep or sell the items inside, but you must do so before repairing the room and moving in a new tenant. Repairing a room costs money, but as they say, you have to spend money to make money.
The game runs on a day/night cycle and you are often given a limited number of hours to complete an objective. I love how you can fast forward time, this greatly comes in handy when you need to speak to someone and they are asleep. Choice factors in heavily with each decision you make. Carl may be instructed to gather evidence and kick out a resident by filing a report with the police. But what if instead he bribed them for cash he desperately needs? Or what if Carl snuck inside their room, stole some valuables and sold them? He might get caught by the police, but he might not…I even had a scenario where a tenant shot me dead over a dispute! The level of mystery and consequence makes Beholder so appealing and unpredictable. One gripe is that I sometimes had trouble targeting specific characters when they were close to other characters or objects.
Not only is the gameplay unique in Beholder, the art style is as well. While each room has a hand-drawn look, every character has a completely black outline with bright white features. It’s amazing how much emotion can be shown just by the character’s eyes. The music that accompanies the game is also a great fit with somber tones that highlight the gray skies and dismal themes of society. There is a lot of dialogue between Carl and the tenants, with nearly all of it being text-only. While this doesn’t detract from the experience, it might be difficult for players who sit back from the television to read easily. The loading times on original Xbox One are a definite low-light for me, as a typical level can take nearly 70 seconds to load. I’d imagine this will be less of an issue for Xbox One X owners, though. From time to time there will be fully voiced cutscenes that are voiced nicely and help move along the story. Lastly, the included Blissful Sleep DLC adds even more value and includes a new scenario based on an ex-landlord with completely different tenants.
I can safely say that I have never played a game like Beholder: Complete Edition. The idea of playing as a landlord who has the freedom to bribe, arrest and invade his tenant’s privacy is quite controversial. The developers gave Carl a lot of power, yet even he has his own bosses to please. Beholder is the type of game that you get invested in through the choices and relationships. The story can feel downright shocking at times, and sometimes the choice you want to make is the hardest. While I was not a fan of the loading times, the uniqueness and value in this package pushed me to the higher of two scores considered. Players looking for a unique experience that has bits of Fallout Shelter crossed with The Sims will find a game that is move-in ready!
Writer’s Notes: A copy of Beholder: Complete Edition was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. Currently, Beholder is paired with Dear Esther on the Xbox store for a discounted price of $14.99. After promotion the price will increase to $24.99.