Not For Broadcast — You gotta see this

Video (games) killed the radio star.

Not For Broadcast is hilarious, brilliant, bleak, and the greatest FMV game I’ve ever seen.

If you think that line above is hyperbole, let me assure you it is not. I like Full Motion Video (FMV) games, taking as many opportunities to play them as I can get. Whilst the likes of Dark Nights With Poe and Munro and The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker are excellent examples of video games that are centred around live footage and how you interact with it, Not For Broadcast does such an amazing job of putting you in a position of control within the universe, where your choices really do have significant impacts on the outcomes. Add to that the significant messages regarding politics, the media, and the effect of these on the public, and you’ve got a game that’s not just impressive, but one that actually means something.

You play Alex Winston, a new staff member working in the broadcast booth of the National Nightly News, a major evening news programme in 1980s Britain. It’s your job to control the broadcast, picking the cameras to show the show to the public, bleeping the swear words, and playing appropriate adverts. This is interspersed with a choose-your-own-adventure style text driven sections between broadcasts in which you deal with Alex’s family life, finances, and other worldly events that directly impact them. Summing Not For Broadcast up in this way does it a disservice though.

Not For Broadcast Drama
For much of the broadcasts you’ll be picking which camera to show to the public, adhering to the classic rule of no shot lasting more than 10 seconds. Try to keep the camera on the action though.

It’s worth pointing out that this game is very political in terms of its story, and if you’re one of those ‘keep politics out of my video games’ people, then you’re going to really hate this. During your first broadcast, you’ll handle the announcement that a new government has come to power in a shock election victory, and that their first actions have been more than a little controversial. Before long you’ll be managing reports that involve an uprising, international wars, and a thrilling new sport. Your choices about what’s shown on camera, what you choose to censor, and the adverts you play will determine the public’s view of the government and the growing rebellion. You can shape the future world through careful use of the media. If that’s not a message about the current state of the world, then I don’t know what is.

In the sections between these, you’ll have short text sections in which you influence your family life. Your partner, kids, and extended family all have lives that will be affected by the choices you make here too. Some of them may have happy endings dictated by the choices you make here and in the studio. Others may not, so think carefully about how you proceed. Much like the modern classic Papers, Please, you’ll earn money when you work in the broadcast room, so maybe you’ll want to make choices you don’t like, just so your family can afford to get by, but potentially at a cost to the greater population. It’s a wonderful reshaping of Lucas Pope’s minimalist game of political upheaval.

The actual gameplay in the broadcast room has you managing multiple things at once in a Five Nights At Freddy’s style room. In front of you is a desk, including four small screens that you can select between for live broadcast, a live screen, and a broadcast screen which goes to the public. Your censor button will bleep words you don’t want to go live, which are indicated by a red bar on the sound wave above it. Then there’s a broadcast strength metre which measures interference. Occasionally you’ll need to manipulate this to keep the signal clear for the viewers. You can also select which adverts to show during the breaks from here from a selection you decide on before starting the broadcast. There are also power switches to the side that can be affected by events throughout the game, and a phone should the boss need to call you. 

Not For Broadcast Family life
Between broadcasts you’ll make choices that will change things for your family as the game goes on. Sometimes with disastrous consequences.

There’s not a huge amount here, but you constantly have things thrown at you. You’ll need to control the screens whilst handling interference at the same time as dealing with the censor button. It can be a lot to take in at times, but on the normal difficulty I managed to get by well enough, which is a good thing as a decent performance means you get paid better, helping you during those family life segments. Then again, knowing that you can manipulate the populace, perhaps you’ll actively decide to perform poorly. Occasionally Not For Broadcast will throw additional spanners in the works, such as broken buttons, musical interludes, and overheating machinery to keep things fresh. Each broadcast has its own twist, so you’re unlikely to get fed up with the main mechanics.

The gameplay and story kept me engaged, but it’s the acting that really brings all this to life. It’s absolutely excellent throughout. Characters are either genuinely likeable or caricatures of celebrities, and they’re all portrayed brilliantly. From the wonderfully snarky news anchor, to the drama obsessed maths teacher, you’ll likely find more than one person in this story to root for, with all of them coming to a different end depending on how you play. Not only is it well filmed and brilliantly acted, but Not For Broadcast is also genuinely funny. There were a lot of occasions in which I burst out laughing at a line or entire scene featuring some hilariously written character, and whilst not every scene is flawless, there’s a lot that’s wonderfully done. 

This is a game that’s spent over two years being filmed and put together, and that includes the lockdowns during the covid era — something that’s brilliantly parodied during one segment of the game — and the level of effort and commitment really shows. Apparently it’s broken a world record for having the largest amount of live action footage in a video game, at nearly 43 hours worth of filmed content. That’s incredibly impressive considering the global pandemic.

Not For Broadcast Actors
The lead actors playing Jeremy Donaldson and Megan Wolfe are excellent, and do a great job of switching between professionals in front of the camera, and jaded journalists when away from them.

It’s not all comedy though. The opening of the game issues a warning that there are scenes that could be distressing, and this is certainly true. Some of the live moments are quite hard hitting — which are again brilliantly acted — and feature certain events that I won’t go into to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say, there are moments that are quite bleak when you consider the modern political climate. 

We’re not long into 2022, but I’m already planning on keeping Not For Broadcast in mind for when I start thinking about my favourite games of this year, and I’ve not even gone into the fact there are 14 significantly different endings, a challenge mode, and even a bonus telethon to unlock and play through. It’s an incredibly well done product, with a setup that you simply can’t find anywhere else, and an absolute truckload of content to enjoy. I implore you to try out Not For Broadcast — there’s even a free prologue available if you want to give it a try first — because more games like this need to be made, ones with a creative soul and a serious message.

Not For Broadcast is out now on Steam.

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