Making moral decisions is something that we have gotten used to. But it wasn’t always the case and when these were introduced to the gaming world back in those old-school RPGs, the paths you could take would be quite linear – would it be the heroic path or the evil dark path?
Lately though those morality decisions in games have moved towards a much more grey, rather ambiguous, area of moral conundrums. And that brings us on to the games from the Beholder series, as they put you in some very difficult shoes where the decisions you make could see others suffer; in return for making your journey easier. Do you tell on someone’s exploits to further your cause? It’s this concept which makes Beholder 3 interesting and unique, but is it fun?
Beholder 3 puts you in an imaginary totalitarian state, think Soviet USSR, and you are getting close. You play officer worker Frank Schwarz; a guy who spends his time at the Ministry. He leaves a comfortable life with a nice family and the perks of the job. But then his work computer gets hacked, he gets in trouble and then arrested. Now he has two choices, either go and work in the mines as a prisoner or prove himself as a landlord of a residential building with his family. The catch is you have to put cameras everywhere, watching your neighbours and reporting back to the government with anything suspicious. Do you have a problem with that?
The story and world-building of Beholder 3 are actually very good and it does capture the essence of government-controlled states, both of the past and the present. The dialogue and writing are good as well with some great sub-stories coming out of the characters you meet along the way. However, it does overstay its welcome a bit and after a couple of hours in it all begins to feel a bit flabby in narrative terms. Overall, it’s pretty solid throughout.
The gameplay works as a mixture of an RPG point-and-clicker and a Sims-like game where you operate in real-time, juggling tasks, and keeping yourself from being arrested. You will have tasks assigned to you by the authorities that are time-sensitive. For example, you might have to file a report on all the residents to the government in under sixty hours. To do this you have to talk to all the residents in the apartment block, grabbing information from them about their lives. Then you can file your reports.
For each task you complete you get money from the government. Yet you also need to complete tasks around the building like emptying the garbage or fixing the boiler. These jobs need doing or you’ll find yourself getting into trouble. Bills need to be paid on time too and after a while of juggling your life tasks with your family, the demands of the housing attendant job when combined with a bit of spy work gets very hard indeed.
Failure of any of the tasks results in the loss of money through fines; when you are bankrupt, it’s game over. If you manage to progress well though then you will soon discover your world opens up to the Ministry where you get to spy on others from the bottommost rung. It all plays okay, and the movement of the game works fine, but there are a few moments in which you’ll find your character getting stuck, unresponsive for a moment only to spring into action again.
Beholder 3 also allows you to switch between the normal view of Frank to the zoomed-out view where you can see all the rooms you are spying on and what is going on there. The game also has some great side quests that give you a whole load of content to play around with.
The visual look is all done in a monochrome style, built with silhouetted characters with white eyes, glasses, or hair. This adds to the murky spy design and works brilliantly with the gameplay. The design of the buildings, rooms, and tiny details spread throughout are fantastic and the sound score plays with the totalitarian vibe, creating a tense atmosphere where you can feel the cold and despair coming through the TV screen.
Even though you’ll have a good time with Beholder 3, you may well find that it becomes a little bit too samey after a while. But perhaps the humdrum life of trying to balance chores with spying needs means it is meant to be that way. The setup is an intriguing one, built with a narrative that has some great characters and good plotlines to follow. There are some minor control issues, but overall the experience is quite fluid with easy-to-read menus.
Should you be a fan of Beholder as a series then you should lap up this new addition, but even then, for newcomers, Beholder 3 is as good a place as any to start the experience.
Beholder 3 is on the Xbox Store