Some games are fine with letting you be a master of people’s fates, deciding who lives or dies without fear of consequence. Other games introduce more nuance, but ultimately you are still the master of others’ lives.
But there are also other games, quieter games. Games like Beholder developed by Warm Lamp Gamer and published by Alawar Entertainment.
Bleak and tyrannical world
Beholder takes a lot of inspiration from George Orwell’s classic 1984. It is set in a totalitarian state aspiring to regulate every aspect of citizens’ lives. Not even you, one of the Ministry’s half-willing agents, are beyond scrutiny.
As the game’s creators describe it: it’s a game about a little cog in a big state machine. And it definitely shows the more you play. Orwellian bleakness permeates the game’s design and themes, and the decisions you make have short-term consequences and influence many things in the long run. There are no good choices, you only change who benefits from them the most.
Decisions and Dilemmas
As a landlord, you have a number of convenient options for spying on your tenants. You can enter their rooms to perform repairs and slip a spy camera into a smoke detector, you can peek through keyholes, and since you know when your tenants are gone, you know when to break into their apartments to look for incriminating evidence. But the true struggle begins when you have to decide what to do about it.
No good way
There are several solutions to every tenant’s indiscretion. You could be a cog, ensuring your own safety, but committing a potentially harmless person to jail or worse. You could blackmail them, trying to earn more cash for your own family’s needs, but this is a risky game. You could even help them out, cover up their crimes and facilitate their escape. But can you in good conscience put your own family’s life in danger to help others?
The creators want you to evaluate every task, every individual situation on their own merits, and to evoke emotions most games usually don’t. Morality is a luxury you usually can’t afford in Beholder.
Familiar, but bleaker
In a sense Warm Lamp Games game’s theme is very reminiscent, albeit differently executed, to the one in Papers, Please back in 2013. In both games the player has to make decisions nobody should be forced to make.
To augment the theme, the Alawar Entertainment-published game has a very distinctive visual style. Characters are little more than two bright, paranoid eyes in a dark, distinctive silhouette.
The cross-section view of the building, dark figures and bleak colors look favorably similar to This War of Mine, another game of hard choices which conquered the world and hearts in 2014. However, unlike This War of Mine, Beholder offers little comfort to those who try to be moral. People you help can face horrible fates, and you draw more suspicion towards yourself.
Warm Lamp Games’ Beholder is a game that is reminiscent of others of the genre while staying one of the kind. It places the player in a position of power, but Carl’s not above the law, and failing in his duties and supporting dissidents will make him meet untimely and violent demise just like anyone else. Balancing obedience to the Ministry, providing for his own family, and staying a good man is a nearly impossible task.
The game has an evocative design, thought-provoking theme, and complex mechanics which handle the consequences and endings, of which there are more than can be easily counted.