A game of blackmail, intimidation, and gross human rights violations that feels like a combination of Human Resource Machine and Papers, Please. Buckle up and get ready to be hauled into a world of corporate espionage where the cost of failure is your livelihood and the wellbeing of your family.
Like any good game in this sort of genre, Beholder 3 throws your morality into question. Under an authoritarian regime where green apples and music deemed too upbeat are outlawed, you get to choose between fighting the system from the inside or being one of its enforcers. Greater powers try to wield you as their dutiful pawn but you have to ask: are you playing chess or checkers? At times it feels like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The pressure really comes at you from all sides, and eventually it’s got to crack.
The threat of being sent to work in the mines places you right under the thumb of a high-ranked ministry official who starts off testing your abilities as a spy by upending your life and placing you in charge of an apartment building. Gathering intel on your tenants and demonstrating your willingness to throw them under the bus to save your own skin earns you the privilege of regaining a job at the ministry — the job you lost after being framed. To add insult to injury you were still demoted. As the caretaker, you are served some pretty tough choices when dealing with the residents’ personal lives. Not to mention it’s quite uncomfortable to have to ask if one of them is a hooker, but it only gets worse from there.
Dark doesn’t even begin to cover it. Illegal green apples are about as light-hearted as you get before delving into harder topics like constant government surveillance, domestic abuse, labour camps, right to bodily autonomy, and LGBT+ rights. If you are not interested in heavier topics you might just wanna skip on by. There is some grim humour to be found, what with the ability to have someone arrested for drinking soda, but the dark undertones of even that remain present.
Your moral quandaries don’t just end at observing and reporting on your tenants, you can also break into their apartments and “relieve” them of their belongings. Sunglasses and a “fancy vase” can help you out with a bit of cash when you’re in a pinch. Just keep in mind that if your greed blinds you and you end up going too far with stealing from your tenants you could end up being slapped with a massive bill that is difficult to pay. That can kinda end up being the theme of the game though: managing your money can quickly get out of hand, larger and larger bills end up streaming in, and the consequences of not paying them are quite harsh.
While it might not be to everyone’s tastes, the family aspect can be quite grounding. Trying to keep your family together while dealing with your terrible circumstances adds a ton of extra pressure but it’s a point of humanisation. Do not take their tasks too lightly as failing them ramps up the difficulty considerably.
I have a lot of respect for the incredibly dramatic sound effects and music. Nothing really says you messed up like appropriately jarring sounds. The background music doesn’t really stand out but it does an adequate job of being a consistent unsettling presence. As far as the art style is concerned, I am in love. The blend of 2D and 3D assets mesh so well and the grungy designs of the environments are just so on point. The characters being reduced to primarily faceless caricatures makes them stand out against the fairly detailed backgrounds. All of it combined really sells the bleak atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Beholder 3 is not without a few small technical issues. When loading in it jumps straight to 100% and you just have to sit there hoping it really is loading in the background. Changing zones between the ministry and apartments causes a fair bit of stuttering, but luckily it clears up quite quickly. The issue I struggle to look past is what happened to my save, however. At one point I loaded an older save as I realised I was running out of time for the main quest and I continued playing completely unaware that a task I had previously completed was now marked as failed. I had completed it prior to the save and was now too far ahead to try and go back and fix it.
It’s not what I would categorise as a fun game to chuck on when you’re bored but is best saved for times when you’ve got your thinking cap on. The confrontation of serious world issues and human rights issues is something that is good to see. Character conversations and interactions can feel a bit bland at times but the overarching depth of the game makes up for that.