I do like me a good management sim from time to time. It’s a genre that’s far too under represented in the console space, so I was more than happy to take on Beholder: Complete Edition when review duties called.
Beholder: Complete Edition is a re-release of the original game plus its DLC, hence the ‘Complete Edition’ moniker. The base game itself is what you’ll want to be tackling first as the DLC is a separate campaign that should really be played after the original story has been done and dusted. It may take you some time to get there, though, as Beholder is a bastard when it comes to difficulty.
Beholder puts you in the boots of a low-level government man whose job is to manage an apartment building. Glamorous! It’s not just any old apartment building, though, as Beholder all takes place in a totalitarian state where the government wants to know what everyone is doing all the time. Oh, and it’s set in 1984 just in case the references weren’t enough.
So there I was, being given the keys to the manor, so to speak, and that was that. After a brief tutorial that barely taught me anything, I was given my order and expected to follow them to the letter. That’s the name of the game. When The Man (Big Government) calls and tells you to spy on a tenant, you’d best be ready to do some spying. You’re given a few tools to help you out, like security cameras that can be hidden in tenants’ apartments. You can also talk to other characters and build a profile of your target, and you can get down and dirty by having a good old-fashioned rummage through their belongings in a bid to find some incriminating evidence. It all sounds rather simple on the page, doesn’t it? Believe me, it’s far from easy. It’s downright frustrating at times.
Given that you’re living in a world where The Man is in charge and if you don’t do as you’re told you’re as good as dead, the stakes are always high. You’ve also got your family to think of. The Man doesn’t want any loose ends if you get what I mean… The risks are ever-present but the rewards are far and few between, especially for a management sim. There’s no carrot-stick balance. You’re given tasks and then you’re rewarded. But you may have two or three tasks on the go, as well as your needy family all having a moan about one thing or another that you need to solve. Keeping the plats turning isn’t an easy task, though it is satisfying to slowly but surely tick off what needs to be done, but that’s difficult. Your budget is always tight and it never feels like you’re getting enough carrot to warrant the stick’s beating, meaning that you will eventually succumb to the pressure – or just run out the clock on a task – and end up either arrested or worse. That’s your decision, by the way, as you don’t really have to do what The Man says…
Beholder is interesting, I’ll give it that. Your job is to spy on the people for the state. Yet you can choose to go rogue and play away from the script provided. Its in these moments that I really enjoyed Beholder, but they’re few and far between. It may be that helping one person spells a gloomy end for another – just what The Man wants – but doing things a little differently could spell out disaster for all parties involved. It’s by far and away my favourite aspect of Beholder, but just getting to that point where you understand the game mechanics and what’s expected of you takes a lot of slogging and failure. It doesn’t help, then, that each playthrough is essentially the same. You’ll have the same tenants. You’ll have the same tasks in the same order. You’ll find yourself thinking “why don’t I just do something else?”
I suppose the real weakness for Beholder is that it’s not quite simmy enough. You’ve got the tenants to manage, new tenants to move in, tenants to evict/send to the certain death, but you’ve got no tangible assets of your own. Well, you’ve got your annoying family but I would have been happy to have seen them get shipped off pronto. What you really need is something to show you’re doing a good job. As gamers this is all we crave, hence trophies, achievements, and leaderboards. Yet Beholder doesn’t want you to ever get comfortable and know that you’ll be able to pay your dues when that time of the month comes around. It’s as frustrating as it is brilliant, I suppose. Think about it: would you really be comfortable living in such a scenario? No, you wouldn’t, and you’d be under constant pressure and that translates very well out of the screen. If I’m sat on my couch worrying I’m about to be raided by The Man’s cronies in a fictional game, I think it has done its job.
While I may be a little conflicted when it comes to Beholder’s gameplay loop, one thing I know for sure is that I love the art style. It’s simple, it’s dark, and it perfectly encapsulates the 1984 Big Brother aesthetic. The controls, however, were a royal pain in the anus and it took me far too long to know what I was doing without having to refer to the in-game control menu. It makes sense, though, as Beholder was originally a PC release that followed onto mobile. Mouse and touchscreen controls may be perfect for such a game, but the transfer to DualShock 4 hasn’t been so smooth. It’s not unplayable by any means, it’s just annoying that it’s not more intuitive. Hmm. Maybe that’s The Man’s way of keeping us stressed out until he can find a suitable replacement?
Beholder: Complete Edition PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.0/10
Beholder: Complete Edition has me scratching my head. On one hand I really like the game. Like, really like it. On the other hand it’s infuriating and I want to punch The Man many times. I’m conflicted, not unlike my in-game avater juggling the pressures of his everyday landlord life. It’s a decent game, for sure, but it’s got a steep learning curve that makes no effort to flatten out. The controls are a bit awkward and there’s always the sense that you’re being set up to fail. Yet it’s still one of the most interesting games I’ve played in a while.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.
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Chris has been writing about gaming news for far too long, and now he’s doing it even more. A true PlayStation know-it-all, Chris has owned just about every Sony console that ever existed. Trophies are like crack to this fella. (Bronze trophies, that is – he only has one Platinum.)