App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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I’ve got to say, I got something wrong in my Beholder review. Although I said it seemed like a game that wouldn’t stick with you for long, I still think about the game’s interesting moral choices pretty regularly. Beholder 2 tries to up the stakes of the first game in almost every way imagineable, but it sands off the interesting edges that made the first Beholder interesting in the process.
Born under punches
In the first Beholder, you played as a lowly landlord in a totalitarian state. In Beholder 2, you’re the son of a prominent figure in the regime who was suddenly and mysteriously murdered. The game starts with you starting your first day working for the government (“The Ministry”) shortly after your father’s passing.
You quickly learn that the timing of your hire is no mystery. There are folks at The Ministry that want to look into your father’s death and they implore you to uncover what the government is hiding. As much as you might want to investigate though, you also have to make ends meet by actually performing your job as a lowly bureaucratic cog in a large, terrifying, facist machine.
Investigate on your own time
What follows this setup is an adventure game all about time management. Each day, you have eight hours to pursue lots of possible narrative threads. Some might be big and reveal more information about your father’s death, while others might be small side stories, like the quest line about the baker who is tired of having the nearby vending machine stealing her customers.
Although Beholder 2 requires to to manage your time carefully, it doesn’t rush you to do so. In fact, moving throughout the game world doesn’t spend any time at all. Instead, actions you can perform in the game might have a certain time value associated with them. Waiting in a line to see the boss, for example, takes an hour, while breaking into a co-worker’s office might take 15 minutes. This makes for an experience that basically lets you pursue any threads you want at your own pace, without having to worry much about running out of time.
While this move away from a real-time game clock is certainly convenient, I’m not sure it does Beholder 2 any favors. Part of what made Beholder so great was that it forced you to make hard choices in the heat of the moment, or at least it threatened to. The game clock in the first game was pretty easy to navigate, but it still always imposed a sense of urgency and pressure that felt meaningful. It’s presence let you see see why someone might do something ethically dubious if they got backed into a corner and needed to find a way out.
The complete lack of pressure in Beholder 2 really flattens the experience and makes it feel like a dystopian playground that has very little to say about its oppressive setting. It also doesn’t help that the game uses the totalitarian state as a punchline in ways that are bizarre and uncomfortable. Some quest lines end with executions and suicide bombings with little to no forewarning, but it’s all presented with a sort of whimsy, like the game just expects you to chuckle mindlessly at these brutal scenes.
The bottom line
Beholder 2 is one of those unfortunate sequels that doesn’t quite understand what made the first game so good. It’s a dystopian adventure game with virtually no stakes, and its oppressive setting feels like a vehicle for poor attempts at dark humor and little else. Instead of playing Beholder 2, you’re better served playing Beholder again, or maybe diving into the DLC that came out after its release.