Welcome to a bureaucratic nightmare simulator – a choose your own adventure romp through an Orwellian world filled with moments both ingeniously humorous and terribly dark. As you shuffle through the aisles and interact with co-workers, you are shown a world of perfect dysfunction, where the selfish come out on top. A world in which countless atrocities are hidden under mountains of forms and paperwork. Beholder 2 is a total package, both thought-provoking and utterly engaging. It improves and builds on the ideas of its predecessor while being entirely unique.
You are the son of a wealthy and influential department head in the Ministry, a massive administrative building, but your father suddenly died just days before your arrival. In order to find out what happened you have to climb the ranks of the Ministry, going from the lowliest office job straight to the top. The overall main plot is engrossing: you can’t help but want to keep going as the breadcrumbs about the mystery of your father pile up. As you expose the inner workings on each floor, you find out more about what happened.
Beholder 2 plays very similarly to a job simulator, something akin to Papers Please and puzzle point and clickers, much like old adventure games. That’s mixed in with a dash of player choice throughout. On every floor in the Ministry you begin by doing the job assigned to you, and this changes on each floor from filing reports to creating clones. They are often fun distracting minigames that help you build money and authority, which are often used in encounters with your co-workers and the greater world. These encounters make up the second major aspect of the game – the exploration and puzzling solving.
In order to move to a new floor and progress, you need to be promoted. There are two major strategies for this: either dig up dirt on the boss of each floor and have them fired or stop all your other co-workers from getting the promotion. Or both. There are many ways to accomplish these goals but they require conversing with everyone, using items, figuring out solutions, and exploring the world around you. Many of these outcomes have good and bad ways of handling it; you could remove a co-worker by getting her addicted to drugs or by finding her a cushy rich husband.
The stories and moments that spring from these condurums are the lifeblood of this experience, oftentimes the game masterfully walks the line between ridiculousness and deeply disturbed. The characters are well thought out and the writing is often impressively clever, sharp, creative and memorable. Very rarely can I say a game gets to literary levels of satire and commentary, but I believe Beholder 2 reaches that bar. It’s a story about how governmental bureaucracy can allow evil to grow in its deepest corners and its tallest heights, hidden in plain sight. It feels both timely and universal – undoubtedly it’s the biggest quality of this title.
However, those encounters also work as a puzzle game as well. Always the solutions make sense and throughout I have felt clever figuring out the right item to use, finding the right place to search, or speaking the right line. Some take awhile, but there isn’t one time where it fees like the solution is obtuse or unfair.
I can’t speak such high praise for the job minigames though, which often vary wildly in quality and fun. Some floors have an easy and breezy minigame that tests logic but feels light enough to be pleasant. However others seem much too complex and often are simply boring, and I found myself in sections of the game avoiding them like state mandated execution; some of the jobs felt like that. This could have been on purpose to create atmosphere and immersion, but it just kills the enjoyment and grinds the pace to a halt.
The good thing is that at least they’re nice to look at. The art direction of Beholder 2 is simple and purposeful; the world filled with moody greys and muted colors. But it’s also strangely cartoonish. The split art style conveys the shifting tones of the game. It’s all set behind a heavy and depressing score that rounds out the world.
In the end, this is a trip; an experience that will leave you laughing, befuddled, enraged, saddened, and ultimately satisfied. It’s not easy to put Beholder 2 on Xbox One in a box though, as it’s a truly unique blend of gameplay elements – a narrative-driven world that is filled with engaging characters, strange places, and mysteries waiting to be solved. Simply put, it’s one of the most artistic and well-written interactive experiences I’ve seen in a while and, while it’s not perfect, it is completely unforgettable.