I’ve always been a fan of the humble point and click adventure, but in recent years, it hasn’t felt enough to deliver the same tried-and-tested gameplay that made this genre so popular during the nineties. Beholder 2 is essentially a point and click adventure, but it mixes narrative, puzzle and exploration elements in a way that makes it feel unique.
Presumably continuing the main story from Beholder (which I never played) Beholder 2 begins with the player character trudging into work, having been appointed to a new role working for the government. As the game makes clear within the first five minutes, Beholder 2’s setting is fairly dystopian, and the regime we work for is morally ambiguous, to say the least.
Over the course of the first hour or so, we become familiar with our role — trudging deliberately slowly from hall to hall and filing endless applications for various kinds of government support. The job we occupy during these early stages acts as something of a minigame that the player can use to earn money, at the expense of time.
Money is needed for almost everything, from paying your daily bills (which are extortionate, to say the least) to bribing officials and colleagues for one reason for another. Sometimes you’ll need to buy essentials too, and the job we now hold is the kind I used to hate back when I worked in retail — because it makes you pay for things you don’t want, such as buying your own uniform.
With a few days under our belts, Beholder 2 starts to show what it’s really about. Firstly, we learn that our own father was the former leader of the regime and that perhaps some of his more “lenient” policies weren’t exactly to the taste of everyone around him. We also learn that we’ve been appointed to our new role by a sort of internal affairs agency, with a focus on stamping out corruption.
Beholder 2 quickly becomes a game about managing the day to day aspects of life — the bills that need to be paid and the decisions that will make the days pass faster (or not) whilst also managing a career, and the expectations of several interested benefactors. Some days, you’ll just have to knuckle down and earn a few quid, but on others, you’ll be free to further your own schemes and plots more easily.
Beholder 2 is broken up into floors, with the player ascending in rank within the government’s organisation as each floor is “completed” — something that can often be achieved in several ways. The first floor, for example, shows off several of the concepts behind the game, including screwing over your colleagues (or befriending) and shafting the boss by either blackmailing him or turning him in to the authorities.
And frankly, all of this is really well done. The way the characters can be brought around to trust you through either money or reputation (the two in-game currencies) or sometimes through the use of items is interesting. This feels very much like an old school point and click at times, with a bottle of whiskey stolen over here and then handed to someone somewhere else being the “optimum” way to solve an early puzzle, but rep or cash being reasonable alternatives if you’re prepared to work for them and can’t reach an outcome via the “classic” way.
Obviously there are more complicated examples later and you simply will need to solve certain aspects of each floor the old fashioned way, but it’s nice that cash or reputation will always be able to help you with two or three pieces, just to ensure getting stuck isn’t as big an issue as it might have been.
On the more literal subject of getting stuck, Beholder 2 is the only game that I’ve encountered in the past few months which, on Xbox One at least, has a few bugs that forced me to reboot the game. Primarily, this seemed to involve my character getting stuck in parts of the level where there were interactive items.
To give you some idea of this, Beholder 2 works on a purely two-dimensional plane, with the player walking from left to right. On occasion, an item of scenery or a person will “break” this rule, allowing the player to press a button and step deeper into the scene to then perform the interaction. During my playthrough, I’d say the player character refused to return from these interactions on perhaps four or five occasions, which was too many and quite annoying, frankly.
Seeing as we’re talking about how the game presents itself, I should comment on the very unique look of Beholder 2, which is almost entirely black, white and grey, in keeping with the dystopian style that it presents overall. The visuals are fine without being remarkable, but what they do convey well is the feeling of depression and despair that the game is steeped in. Everything is dark, everyone is slumped, moments of light and colour, like happiness, are sparsely used throughout Beholder 2.
If the point and click adventure game genre is to continue to push the envelope, then my opinion is that it must do so through games like Beholder 2. Here we have a game that has a great narrative, a very unique look, and a smart way of driving the player onwards towards one of several possible conclusions.
Beholder 2 feels less like a point and click than most, whilst actually dishing out more puzzles (of both a classic and modern nature) than any game I’ve played in a long time. The dilemmas are often moral in nature, and sometimes there’s no good choice to make, which makes things all the more interesting.
Where Beholder 2 missteps is perhaps in the execution, with the movement being a bit slow and ponderous at best, and still seemingly featuring a few bugs as I mentioned earlier. The gameplay itself is solid and enjoyable, and I certainly felt compelled to complete the game in its entirety once, and I may do so again if time allows.