It's an interesting premise—you're a spy for the totalitarian state and you must report on tenants in a decrepit building. Use various methods to spy and get information to help your family get by in difficult times. Sometimes methods in the scope of your duties are within acceptable boundaries in the eyes of the state—and sometimes not. It's up to you to fill the shoes of Carl Stein and do your best to support the oppressive state, or else the state comes after you.
In what some would call a grouping of This War of Mine and Papers, Please, Beholder strongly plays on the ethical / moral line of actions that you take during the course of gameplay. Don't take the mantra "every choice has a consequence" lightly. It's tempting to run into someone's apartment after they've left for work to steal the expensive bottle of aspirin and cure your daughter, but theft isn't something that goes unnoticed in a totalitarian state—or in a small apartment building. It's often best to play your cards safe by taking the long / expensive route to acquire things, a pattern often learned after several attempts at play. But it feels as if this game from Warm Lamp Games and Alawar Entertainment relies on "die"-al and error over thinking, which nearly necessitates repeated play or backtracking through saves.
The fun hits when you're trying to figure out the best strategy between an honest approach at something and how to cheat. For instance, you could earn enough money to buy chocolate candy from a peddler, or just steal from a tenant and hope the repercussions aren't terrible. You could send your son off to work in the mines, but it's the last thing he'd want to do—and keeping your family happy is an important game aspect. It's a constant question-asking game about how to do something properly and whether or not the choice you made was best in terms of time and money balance. Carl's family constantly needs things—a television repaired, some money for groceries, lost items—and it's this constant upkeep that, even in training mode, is very difficult.
Admittedly, the game is just far too dark. It's a fun challenge, even though it may force you to ask where your moral compass lies, but when the 10k charge hits for your daughter's medical bills and there's no cure in sight, there's just a sinking side effect feeling that isn't easy to shake off. Couple that with repeated saved games and a very difficult but learn-able strategy, and frustration kicks in over enjoyment. There's still the weird feeling you get when you enter someone's house while they're gone—that feeling is justified in the eyes of the state, but it just adds to the down factor.
The simple parts are very intuitive. If you see someone breaking a government directive, you record the information and then write a report. However, the question of why often surfaces. Sure, you can accuse the little old lady of crying when directive 6049 makes any kind of crying illegal. But why would you, especially if that person can provide a need for Carl's family in the future?
Movement in the game feels a little jilted—sometimes Carl doesn't respond to clicks to move forward, risking exposure of your job to the residents (it's funny, by the way, to burst out of someone's apartment in the last moment of a tenant's return and escape exposure). This speaks more of development oversight rather than crafty game development, but zooming out on the apartment structure tends to obscure some furniture that may be hiding necessary items for Carl's use. A lot of the time the state captures Carl for neglect over something simple, like not finding aspirin for the daughter.
This is what I've experienced in the training section of the game, so it's a wonder how things will change once you step up to the normal difficulty of the game. I'd assume people are in their houses more often, with more silly government directives (no music from the 80s!) and a tighter turnaround time for profiles and objectives given to you by the ministry. Piling on the need to upkeep the family on money and personal attention is ultimately a huge challenge that is too difficult to enjoy.
Beholder isn't a bad game by any means; I think it's just too dark to feel positive about. It's akin to George Lucas' THX-1138. Fantastic production, but there's still a sinking feeling that the rain won't stop. We'd recommend Beholder if you like darker games that take a lot of practice to get a play cadence. Otherwise, we'd say look elsewhere for more fun experiences. Beholder is available on Steam currently.