Strategy titles are always a welcome sight on the Xbox One, so I initially had high hopes for Beholder. And in many ways, it lived up to my expectations. Between the beautifully crafted dystopian setting, atmospheric musical score, and initial solid writing, I was definitely hooked into the experience.
However, the meat of Beholder — the gameplay — is where serious flaws are revealed. Though the game tests both your multitasking skills and moral reasoning, the repetitive nature of the gameplay and the lack of true replay value keep Beholder from being something truly special.
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Story and setting: A puppet for your masters
Beholder takes place in a form of dystopian near-future in which society is controlled by a government known as the Ministry. The Ministry hires special employees to act as managers for apartment complexes. It sounds okay enough, until you learn that their main job is to spy on every aspect of the lives of tenants, reporting misconduct to the authorities.
You take control of Carl, who recently chose to take this position and lives as a manager in a complex with his family. After watching the previous manager who failed to perform his duties get beaten by the police and arrested, it immediately becomes clear to you that, agree with the Ministry's policy on privacy or not, refusing to do as the organization says is not ideal.
As the Ministry begins to unveil new, increasingly ridiculous laws (such as outlawing the ownership of apples) you're faced with the difficult choice to either uphold the law in order to keep you and your family in good status, or to ignore the invasive policies, letting your tenants live private lives but risking yourself in the process.
Will you choose to stand with this system, or fight it? This is ultimately the main question that drives the game's narrative. It's a compelling one, to be sure, but it falls flat after a few hours due to the lack of any character in both the protagonist of Carl and the numerous NPCs. The story is dynamic with several endings, but there's no reason to get attached to anyone and as a result, replaying the game to experience the different scenarios is a chore.
Gameplay: Keep tabs on everyone
As the manager of your building, it's up to you to constantly make sure that you know what everyone is up to. By using money you earn to buy cameras and other equipment, you can create effective security systems that allow you to see everything happening, everywhere. Cameras don't always work, though, and sometimes you're forced to manually spy on people by other methods, such as peepholes.
As more and more people move in, making sure you have an effective plan in place to keep tabs on them all is where Beholder is at its best. Speaking to them all is also advantageous, as you can learn information about them which will give you potential hints about what they might do in the future or bring into your complex.
Sadly, though, interacting with the NPCs is a boring process, and very few of them are interesting. In addition, the exact same people move in during replays, and this lack of variety ultimately make Beholder an unpleasant grind to return to after your first completion. Finally, the controls can often times feel a bit confusing and clunky, and that's a big problem in a title that expects you to multitask efficiently and in a timely manner.
Beholder for Xbox One bottom line
Though it introduces a great concept and backs it up with competent visuals, music, and decent writing, Beholder is restrained from further success thanks to multiple issues with the gameplay mechanics, controls, and poor replay value.
- Well-crafted setting.
- Unique gameplay concept.
- Strong presentation.
- Confusing controls.
- Poorly written characters.
- Lack of gameplay variety.
Beholder is available now on Xbox One for $24.99.
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This review was conducted on an Xbox One, using a copy provided by the publisher.
Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.
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