Review: Not For Broadcast

In an age such as this, do you still feel that you’re immune to the effects of propaganda? Do you question if social media for the news is truly showing you all of the important details, or keeping you in a bubble? Better question, though: could you handle being on the other side of the looking glass? What would you do if you suddenly had the power to control what gets viewed on the news by millions, especially during chaotic times, and especially when it comes to politics? Would you try to keep things as even and non-biased as possible or manipulate them in a way that benefits you? And most importantly…do you go with the close-up shot of a disastrous apple pie or the reaction of the Gordon Ramsey expy as they curse like a sailor over it? These are the questions NotGames’ FMV “porpaganda simulator” Not For Broadcast poses, and they’re questions that you’ll want to answer.

Set in Not-Britain during an alternate version of the 1980s, Not For Broadcast sees you paying as Alex Winston, a janitor for the Channel One television network who suddenly finds themselves as the editor for the National Nightly News after the previous one decides to bolt at the last second. To be specific, that editor is fleeing the country because it’s election night, and a radical new party known as Advance has emerged victorious. They promise to help improve things in the country, but it becomes clear quickly that there are those who may question their methods, to say the least. But now Alex is in a position where they get to decide just how Advance and their critics are viewed, assuming they can figure out how to properly edits things to begin with…

When we had last previewed the game back in early 2020 and detailed the first few broadcasts, it was immediately clear that one of the biggest strengths of Not For Broadcast was its sense of humor, with players having to cover the likes of perfectly-amateur school plays that receive funding from Advance, the insane new sports craze that is Sportsboard, or the growing resistance group against Advance called Disrupt, made up of wealthy people stripping naked to protest that Advance’s wealth distribution means they have to downgrade to a house with..*gasp*…only ONE staircase. Not only is the humor still just as strong, but even moreso than in the early game, Not For Broadcast doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to satires of contemporary politics and their extremes or the news media that covers it, taking aim at everyone from socialists to right-wing militias and every talking head trying to discuss or cash in on them. There’s even a chapter that takes place during a lockdown that was made during and inspired by the real-life COVID-19 lockdown…just one that’s been caused by a plague of killer robot dolls.

What helps the humor land, though, is the delivery of everyone involved. The writing is sharp and perfectly absurd, but the performances by the cast are what truly help sell everything, with every guest fully committing to a nice variety of lunacy-infused ham in their own way, be it trying to keep a show going as a set falls around them or suddenly dropping a series of curse words after learning about the current state of the environment on-air. This is a game where any insane stunt can disrupt the news, and every performance sells the reactions to them. The Oscars, though, have to go to Paul Baverstock and Andrea Valls as anchors Jeremy Donaldson and Megan Wolfe, respectfully, whose snarkiness and facial reactions as they have to deal with everyone hit that perfect level of comedy. Everyone just has a way of reflecting this goofy dystopia in their own unique ways, and minus the parts with Alex’s family in between chapters, which are meant to be more serious in contrast, you quickly settle into a groove where you quickly get used to the insanity, chuckling along the way as you decide what ads to play, bleep out the curse words, and such as you work with the silly propaganda at your hands…and then the turning point happens.

It should be mentioned that Not For Broadcast is divided up into three episodes with three broadcasts each (not counting the lockdown episode and a bonus telethon episode), and that Episode Two was released in late 2020, with Episode Three being added in the final and full release. I hadn’t checked in on Episode Two during the game’s Early Access period, which is likely for the best. Long story short, you’re probably best going into the game as blind as possible if you can, because Chapter Two delivers massive gut punches when it comes to its story. It’s rare these days to see a game this bold, one that makes you audibly shocked several times over the course of things. Not For Broadcast’s news bits tend to keep you focused on the more light-hearted insanity and political satire, but then once you have your guard down, it hits you with the force of a mack truck.

And you’d think it wouldn’t work more than once, that you’d be on your guard now, but they find a way to perfectly lull you back into laughing at the pop star’s gun-fellating musical performance or a reporter succumbing to symptoms brought about by the land’s smelliest town live on air, and then BAM, the truck hits you from a different direction now as well. And part of this genius is that the game is so good at keeping you glued to the comedic broadcasts as you edit them that you might not realize that you’re falling for the same trick being pulled in-game. As Advance keeps pressuring the National Nightly News to push more puff pieces and propaganda as time goes on in order to distract everyone from any criticisms about what’s actually going on, you yourself can find yourselves just as sucked in and distracted just enough before you get a crude reminder that the world is on fire. Much like say, Death’s Door, Not For Broadcast has basically mastered the art of finding a perfect balance between comedy and tragedy, and again, special mention should go to the performances during these moments as well.

As for the gameplay, the bulk of the game is you sitting in front of a serious of monitors and controls, switching between the four cameras in order to determine what makes it on the air at the moment, and making sure to bleep out any swear words and play ads at the right times. We’ve already compared it to a mix of Five Nights at Freddy’s and Papers, Please, but at least one other person has said it’s more like the Make My Video Sega CD games except, you know, fun. You essentially have to craft your own broadcasts that keep audiences tuned in, down to picking the headline images, but you have unique hazards and orders to deal with over time.

The most recurring thing to deal with is interference, which requires you to adjust a moving frequency while things play out, but there’s also a storm that can cause electrical shocks on certain buttons, an adjustable fan required to keep things from overheating (that can also randomly tun off for extra effect) or sound effects that you have you lock in during certain performances. Your workstation changes in subtle ways as you skip through different time periods, but core gameplay is still nice and simple yet challenging as you try to juggle different tasks, requiring a proper balancing act in order to make it through. And even without all of that, you still need to get used to proper editing as you try to keep the camera focused on who’s talking and make sure to get good reaction shots, but you also have to make sure you don’t linger on anyone too long or switch between cameras too quickly, lest the audience tune out. It may be a propaganda simulator, but there’s this simple elegance to the gameplay that makes stringing everything together so satisfying, like actually crafting a work of art (that you can even watch in the archives along with any footage you might have missed), albeit with the occasional music number about the joys of being childless.

Not For Broadcast also deserve massive props for its music. While it does excel in crafting its own nicely-ominous score and variety of evolving scores for the National Nightly News, the real highlights are the various musical numbers that get performed as part of the in-game show, which range from song-and-dance theatrical productions to twisted kid’s show themes and rap numbers about not wanting to give up your wealth, among others. They’re all well-performed, be it deliberately good or bad, and the game even rewards you for editing in time with the rhythm. The game may not be graphical powerhouse in comparison, but the deliberately schlocky news sets are always fun to behold in their own subtle ways, and the presentation still nicely nails the 1980s aesthetics.

There’s one other factor to consider in what you present, and that’s the various choices you make. The previous editor makes it clear that whatever you present to the people is going to influence the country in one way or another. When discussing the opening headlines, do you use the new CEO’s file photo of them as a graduating student or as a gambler at a craps table? Do you play ads for crazed furniture salesmen or overly expensive getaways that you just so happen to have stock in? And when both side give you orders to censor certain bits of on-air speech that harm them in various ways, do you comply, especially since unlike swears, you don’t get punished for not censoring them? Not only will these choices affect the narrative in various ways and what direction the country’s fate leans in, but it also affects the actual broadcasts that you work with during gameplay, sometimes setting chain reactions that alter what guests appear on a red carpet, sometime making it so that entirely different news segments appear instead. And with fourteen endings to aim for in its several branching paths, there’s a lot of reasons to replay Not For Broadcast, not even counting the unlockable challenges that serve as the cherry on top.

If there are any flaws in Not For Broadcast, they’re extremely minimal. The text-based sections in between broadcasts with Alex’s home life aren’t as engaging, but still fine, giving a nice contrast to the more up-front craziness (and are still able to hit that gut hard). There a couple of sections that might be slightly annoying to some, though. And possibly the risk of realizing that the worst possible people might take the same route as such works as Demolition Man or (appropriately enough) Network and walk away with all the wrong lessons in certain areas? Reaching with that last one, but what can I say? NotGames have crafted something superb here that still lingers in my mind well after having beaten it, something that has me thinking about every bit of each broadcast and how they play into a the greater whole.

Closing Comments:

Rarely do you find games these days that could be described as a combination of “ambitious,” “thought-provoking,” “hard-hitting,” “hilarious” and “extremely fun,” but somehow Not For Broadcast delivers on that front. It’s truly a unique gem with terrifically-varied gameplay, a perfectly-absurd sense of humor with impressive writing and performances, and a story guaranteed to throw you for a loop. Not For Broadcast is a bizarre masterpiece and one not afraid to gleefully mock everything it sees in the most over-the-top yet devastating ways possible, and for that, it deserves top honors. So that’s our report, and have a peaceful night…