The Beholder series was always an interesting gem among many Indie games that try themselves at presenting the player with moral choices in an authoritarian state. Polit-Sims like “Papers, Please!”, “Not Tonight”, and “Beholder” throw you right into the “action” of bureaucracy by having you fill out forms, snitch on suspicious characters, follow specific procedures and try to survive when there is so much to lose when you make a simple mistake. Some of this may sound boring but the story-telling is often the most compelling factor in these games, which makes them so intriguing, especially as the narrative of authoritarian or dystopian societies is incredibly interesting and needs to be explored more, in my opinion. Beholder 3 is yet another entry in the Beholder franchise, exploring these themes and potentially going deeper and darker than ever with some of its narratives – which isn’t too surprising as it wasn’t developed by Warm Lamp Games but by Paintbucket Games who are known for their Resistance Group Sim, Through the Darkest of Times, which places you at odds with the Nazi regime. For today’s review, I’ll talk about Beholder 3 as its own entry in the franchise as you won’t need to play the previous entries to understand what’s going on in this game at all.
Developer: Paintbucket Games Publisher: Alawar Premium Genre: Strategy, Simulation, Political Sim, Point & Click, Indie, Dystopian Release Date: March 3rd, 2022 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was provided by the publisher.
After finding a suspicious virus has been planted onto your work computer, a high-ranking security officer saves you from having to serve a life sentence in the coal mines, offering you a job as a housekeeper. Your new job is to take care of your tenants’ needs, clean the washing machine, fix the utilities, and obviously report any suspicious behaviour. As the housekeeper/janitor, your job is to pay for a lot of bills, take care of your family, and keep the peace in the house. You may install cameras into the fire alarms to keep tabs on your tenants. You may steal items or plant evidence on people to be able to get them arrested. All of these actions will present you with choices: Is it truly okay for you to do this? And the game doesn’t quite answer the question as it’s your choice to make. Do you risk your position and endanger your family further or do you take the side of the weak and keep your moral compass aligned with the “good” side.
Similar to its prequels, you’re left with the choice of following the commands of the government/your higher-ups or siding with the weak citizens who suffer from the oppressive directives. Some of the laws are incredibly silly, like sugar being banned as “it makes life sweeter”, for instance, and hence, you have the choice of whether or not you want to report someone for owning sugar, of all things. There are also times when you’re left with more weighty choices, especially when your family is involved. At one point, for instance, your daughter may be involved with certain people and that puts your family in danger. Do you search her room for evidence or do you trust her word? Do you arrest the “bad” influence or do you even report your own daughter? There are many choices like that where I would have loved to somehow apply my own morals without the game resulting in a game over but one also can’t just ignore an order, right? I already got this one last chance so if I screw this up, I’ll be sent to the mines. After reporting people, you’re left with an empty apartment and a new tenant to move in, leaving you with the questions as to what happened to the family? Was that really the right choice? It gave me goosebumps when I realised that not everything is for their own good. We’re not just “protecting them from themselves”. Are we the bad guys?
The overarching narrative portrays the totalitarian police state really well, which isn’t too surprising (again) as Paintbucket Games are really good at that. It’s frankly scary in a way how easy it is to just do as you’re told without questioning it. Quite often though, you can also see change happening. There are different groups involved that want to get you on their side to reform the country or to get rid of “problematic people”. Beholder 3 is an incredible experience showcasing the impact of your choices and the way it influences your relationships. I found it satisfying to see certain events unfold for a good few hours of my playthrough. Eventually, though, the game opens up a bit more as you earn your place in the Ministry again and as you climb the ranks, always striving for a better reputation and always finding some middle ground between following orders and following ideals – and at that point, I found it hard to care too much for certain narratives as the dialogue just seemed sort of bland and forced on you. It was a bit of a chore in a way and I found myself skipping certain characters’ dialogue options way too often, which was frankly due to two factors: Length and time. Some of these dialogues are quite lengthy and feel a bit too unnatural in my opinion. Meanwhile, time is your biggest enemy and being in a bit of a hurry makes a lot of dialogues feel unnecessary while you’re trying to take care of so many other things.
Luckily, though, the gameplay aspects are rather simplistic and keep you engaged for a good few hours. As I already mentioned, your family’s needs and your time are the two things you look out for. Several quests/tasks issued by NPCs have a timer sitting on top of them, meaning that you can’t wait too long to take care of them. At the same time, you got bills to pay and your son may need a new trumpet. Your daughter may need to go to the hospital. Meanwhile, you need to take care of the washing machine, the garbage, and the heater on top of your espionage duties to earn a living or else you’ll fail to pay the bills, resulting in a game over. The Point & Click gameplay is rather average, completely lacking the puzzling aspects, but it’s thrilling to race against the clock like that. You will have to place cameras, search for evidence, plant items, and get out before the tenant residing in that apartment comes back. The constant pressure of potentially getting caught made me feel quite excited, even if the actual execution really is just a button press after another button press.
Now presentation-wise, the game features a very grim and dark art style of black silhouettes in a grey and gloomy world. These silhouettes are accented with specific details that make them stand out from one another like clothing that has red or white in specific sections, creating this illusion of individuality even when “the state” wants conformity. Individuality is a crime. People look unique in a way but for the most part, they’re all black silhouettes trying to stand out as little as possible. This works really well for the game and is obviously working wonders for the oppressive atmosphere, really establishing how it feels to live in a society where freedom is so limited. While the dialogue may get plain at times, I found Beholder 3 to be pretty polished in most of its other aspects. The story isn’t exceptional but it felt meaningful and it worked really well for the experience that it sets out to establish. There are some slight issues here and there with random stutters in specific areas or bugs that are still getting squished but overall, I found my experience with Beholder 3 to be more than satisfying and I can highly recommend this to anyone looking for a dystopian Polit-Sim inspired by the works of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell as well as games like Papers, Please and This War of Mine. Beholder 3 really portrays the setting of a totalitarian police state or an authoritarian regime well where the people that stand out are being oppressed or even arrested for the simplest of things and where anyone can be your enemy and I truly believe that this is a gem among gems, just like the previous games in the franchise.