Warm Lamp Games pulls you into a bleak dystopian future with Beholder, the first project from the team of experience Siberian developers. The narrative begins with shaded drawings, a rousing score and art style that initially brought a smile to my face, which was quickly doused by the opening story which doesn’t pull any punches when enveloping you into the story and setting. It opens with a scene of family on a bus to the city, sprinkled with the cartoon beating of the previous state installed landlord.
This theme of hopes being quickly dashed is common throughout the game.
The entirety of the game play is spent within the confines of a state-run apartment building. It has a very similar side scrolling look and feel to “This War of Mine” and at times the situation feels almost as dire. The art style and music capture the dystopian setting perfectly. The shadowed nearly featureless figures of the characters accurately reflect the fact that people matter less than their possessions to the state, and ultimately to the main character. While you may get to know the character’s stories, at the end of the day there will be moments where you have to make a decision whether or not to blackmail or backstab one or the other. The music tracks are not widely varied but the loop doesn’t take away from the game, as the swells seem to happen at coincidentally appropriate times.
The controls are very basic, moving the viewport with the keyboard and mouse feels a bit clunky as it’s not sensitive enough and causes more of a jumping feeling, but using the mouse for movement is very smooth. There is also functionality to zoom but I didn’t feel that was incredibly necessary and kept it zoomed out so I could see the entirety of the building, since the main mechanic is observation after all. There’s little in the way of instructions readily visible aside from an initial tutorial but there is a resource when contacting the ‘ministry’ which really helps give you information on how to complete the tasks given to you.
But it is on the player to think to look for it.
Your character spends his days and nights, after a treatment which allows you to function without sleep, to spy on your neighbors to appease the totalitarian government's agenda. It’s your responsibility to enforce directives such as the prohibition of apples, singing, or crying and if you don’t you’ll certainly end up like the previous landlord. As you’re spending time bringing down tenants as enemies of the state, tragedies arise within your family which cost an exorbitant amount of money, which will muddy the waters on already tough decisions.
This is where I feel the game truly excels, especially on the first playthrough. There is no clear right or wrong path, choosing one path or another can and will have deep consequences and sacrifices. As soon as there’s some hope in any situation you’re immediately driven back to your knees wrestling with tough moral decisions. As the saying goes “Saturn devours its own children”. In the same way the very mandates that you’re trying to enforce will be your very downfall. The regime that pays your bills will eventually catch you in some dirty dealing to try and take care of yourself and your family. My first time around, I was busted for actions which I was very guilty of and while I felt horrible about it, I did not regret them. I’m compelled to play through the game a few more times to try and make ‘better’ decisions, though I’m not confident that it will work out in my favor when it happens or if it will bring about a more disastrous consequence.
There is a clear story that Warm Lamp Games wanted you to get through.
While there are a few morally ambiguous tasks it is apparent in the first play through how finite those options are. While there is some replayability in moving through the missions and story paths, and it does these very well, within a handful of plays you may reach the end of the decision combinations which will hopefully end in a ‘good ending’.
I was looking forward to spying on my neighbors.
I was hoping to see nefarious things through peepholes and planted cameras but I felt like that was less important than waiting for tenants to leave to go through their belongings to find the evidence of their wrong doings. The interactions with the characters was very limited and forced to specific interactions at specific times. The reporting mechanics felt similar to ‘Paper’s Please’, simple but fun and interesting game where you are similarly trying to find enemies of the regime.
As one would expect death is all around you in such a totalitarian dystopian future. No one is safe, not family or state installed employees. There are no friends of the state there are only enemies.
I would highly recommend beholder because the art and music style perfectly captures the story. The struggle between the decisions is one that causes real struggle and emotional turmoil. This may not be a game you come back to over and over, but you’re going to sink your time into a few play throughs to try and make the ‘right’ decisions, whatever they may be. While replayability may not be the strong suit the price and the narrative definitely warrant several hours of play time.