Adventure games are evolving. The days where bestselling titles like Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit the Road reigned are long behind us. While Telltale is still king of adventure games, they've shifted toward powerful narratives with less emphasis on puzzle solving. Today, the traditional point and click genre is more often associated with pixel hunting and ridiculous leaps of logic. That’s why it’s always exciting to see an indie studio step up to challenge the status quo. Few of these contenders are as spectacular as Beholder 2 who simultaneously brings delightful, innovative gameplay and some of the best character writing I’ve seen in a video game.
Fans of the original may be a little confused. While the first game was a 2.5D building manager/strategy hybrid set in a 1984 scenario, Beholder 2 is closer to a traditional adventure title supplemented by elements of strategy and time management. The art style has changed as much as the gameplay. Gone is the cutaway dollhouse and its paper people. Beholder 2 is a fully realized 3D world (still navigated on a single axis) populated by characters with physical and emotional depth.
You play Evan Redgrave, a young professional starting at the Ministry, essentially a grimdark version of Futurama’s Central Bureaucracy. That’s a fitting reference because your new supervisor is a silhouetted Hermes Conrad. As you walk up the Ministry steps, you discover the chalk outline of your father who, “coincidentally” fell 200ft from his office window last night.
Evan's job is to field requests and complaints from ordinary citizens. Playing this minigame earns money, which you need to pay bills and bribe guards. Some of the complaints are hilarious, but it can be difficult to distinguish between a request form and an information form. Thankfully, Beholder 2 is not a Papers, Please clone. You don't have to work, that's not what the game is about. After all, there are other ways to make money.
Office politics make up the majority of the game. Evan’s cohorts are always willing to talk and will gradually open up based on player responses. They rarely do any actual work. In that way, Beholder 2 is probably the closest thing we'll ever have to an American Psycho video game. There’s even a smarmy Patrick Bateman-type complete with an overinflated sense of style.
So what’s the goal here? You’re trying to get a promotion. You can do this by grinding through normal work days or, more attractively, by plotting against your coworkers. This is where Beholder 2 reveals its true genius.
By watching TV and asking around the office, you can befriend your three coworkers and other office personnel. The character writing is fantastic. Everyone has a distinct persona accompanied by a unique mumble. It’s easy to empathize with these characters and their problems. Bad character writing makes it easy to slaughter entire towns of NPCs. Good character writing makes you cringe, hesitate, and search for other options before making a decision that might embarrass someone.
You can, of course, befriend your coworkers instead. These outcomes are just as impactful because your actions bring a glimmer of hope to this greyscale totalitarian nightmare. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot of charm in befriending people, it closes off more options than it opens, at least in the beta. I played through several times because I could only see a single order of events that would finish the beta in a timely manner. You're encouraged to earn the promotion by "eliminating" colleagues, but befriending them doesn't trigger new tasks or dialogue options. You've helped others, but doomed yourself. All you can do is grind until you legitimately earn the promotion. It’s the one major weak spot of an otherwise fantastic experience.
Aside from great character interactions, there’s also a unique twist on time management. Beholder 2 has three currencies: money, reputation, and time. That last one is the most interesting. Each day consists of nine hours. You have to balance working, looting, and spying on your coworkers while leaving enough time to watch TV and train your skills at home. It works nicely because it adds a sense of finality to your decisions and takes you off the rails. The destination is always the same, but there are a hundred different ways of getting there.
The reputation mechanic is also fun but doesn’t always make a lot of sense. The idea is that you do things around the office to make people like you. It’s basically a persuasion currency. The easiest way to gain reputation is by learning people’s backstories then cashing in on that knowledge by calling a government hotline. This doesn’t make sense. Why would ratting on your coworkers make others more likely to trust you? You earn an enormous reputation boost for having a co-worker arrested. The others should be quaking in their government-issued-booties, not telling you more secrets. It sounds nitpicky, but earning reputation makes up a big chunk of gameplay.
Beholder 2’s beta shows a lot of promise. The gameplay is engaging, the characters are fantastic, and it maintains a great sense of humor about its grimdark setting. While there are a few kinks to work out, it’s fair to remember that it’s still in beta. If Warm Lamp Games can make the entire experience as delightful as the introduction, Beholder 2 will be an adventure game for the books.
Our Beholder 2 preview was conducted with a beta provided by the developer. The game will be available on Steam later this year.