April 20, 2024
Not For Broadcast - the FMV propaganda sim - is out now on consoles but are ratings high or should it be off the air? The Finger Guns review:

It has been quite the journey for developer NotGames and their game Not For Broadcast, with the first episode originally releasing on Steam through Early Access in 2020. The FMV Propaganda sim was supposed to film its second episode, then the pandemic hit – delaying the production. Thankfully, this wasn’t the last of Not For Broadcast as by January 2022 all the episodes as well as the bonus lockdown episode released on PC via Steam.

With glowing reviews for the full release, as well as the recent DLC episode ‘Live and Spooky’ out now and future episodes to come – there is no better time to turn on your tele for the news. As well as consoles now receiving the transmission, Not For Broadcast is out on PlayStation, Xbox and VR. I’m here to tell you all about the game and more! On tonight’s Finger Guns review.

Propaganda Slander

The game is set in a fictional representation of England in the ’80s. You play as Alex Winston, a janitor for the nation’s biggest and possibly only broadcaster Channel One. You’re clearing out the editing bay when a phone call comes in from the broadcasting engineer, telling you it’s your job now to work the station’s National Nightly News segment.

This is where the tutorial for how to play comes in. From a first-person perspective, you are looking at a whole board of buttons and prompts that do their own thing. There’s a screen in the middle which is showing the real-time feed, as well as a delayed feed that’s airing to the viewers to the right of it. On the left of those two screens are four smaller ones (the vision mixer) that have 4 different cameras feeds that you’ll be switching between with the face buttons (Cross, Circle, Square, Triangle).

The bulk of your job during the broadcast is to switch between camera feeds in a manner that’ll entertain the audience. The audience is represented as a bar on top from red to green, with a triangle that fills green or red depending on performance. L2 is used as a censor button for swearing, and your right analogue stick is used to keep the show’s frequency in check, so the broadcast isn’t choppy. It’s a lot to get your head around from the jump and if you’re playing on the regular difficulty, the margin for error is slim. I opted for Story Mode which eliminates failure and the frequency gauge, and I still didn’t quite nail the perfect broadcast by the end.

Cutting Room Floor

This is the biggest but only hurdle of the game for people to enjoy. The main gameplay loop isn’t a laborious task, but it is one that needs focus throughout. You are told from the start to not linger on shots and to mix it up with reaction shots. All the while censoring, cutting to ads on cue, and dialling the frequency. In short, it’s an incredibly engrossing and unique gameplay mechanic that sets itself apart completely from it’s contemporaries.

There are extra gimmicks added on but the game itself is the exact same by the final broadcast. My interest to jump through the editing hoops waned after what was initially a fantastic great impression, but the narrative shown during and between broadcasts is a driving force that kept me going. Between your days at work are visual novel-style sequences where Alex’s life is affected by the choices you make during broadcasting and vice versa.

During the first broadcast, we’re introduced to the brilliantly acted co-hosts of National Nightly News Jeremy Donaldson (played by Paul Baverstock) and Megan Wolfe (Andrea Valls) as well as recently elected prime minister Julia Salisbury who co-leads Advance, a far-left political party. During your time on the job, Advance’s regime becomes more authoritarian and strife amongst the public and bordering country begins.

Today’s Headlines

I won’t get into too much more about how the plot pans out, but I have to mention how excellently the tone is balanced throughout. Whilst there is a political undercurrent throughout the whole game, Not For Broadcast is brimming with satire. Whether it’s the state of the UK or general pop culture, the zany over the top humour made me laugh out loud throughout the game.

There was a segment that was tackling the topic of reformation for convicts. I had three interviewees with their own perspectives on the matter, one of which was a person who was recently released from prison and a police commissioner. Whackyness ensues when the police commissioner condemns reformation calling convicts deplorable whilst simultaneously having a man in a gimp suit fall out of his cupboard.

We then cut to a quiet gathering celebrating the ex-convict’s freedom turns into a rowdy affair and I had to navigate through swear words and nudity. These hilarious and chaotic sequences are a dime a dozen in Not For Broadcast and I welcomed each segment that did get weird.

It’s a fine line the game straddles of not taking itself seriously by being so overtly ridiculous, whilst still having things of substance to say about the UK and politics in general. Halfway through you meet a movement called Disrupt that is waging war against Advance and their practices, but by the end, I still didn’t know what I was fighting for. Your family goes through tough times depending on your decisions and real world consequences are a result of what you broadcast, making me wonder if I made the right choice.

Power to the Sheeple

It’s ingeniously deep but maybe a little bit muddled on in its messaging of being divided through ideologies. I don’t think it would have been largely a success in making me laugh and contemplate so much if it wasn’t for the performances from the majority of the cast. There’s an argument to be made that the acting is hammy and too on-the-nose but I think that quality just hammers home the surreal circumstance it’s going for, as well as the quieter moments for main characters to show emotion being quite the opposite.

There are four different endings you can achieve with 14 epilogues which make for great replayability. I was satisfied with the ending I got, but I am interested in where the story could go as I feel all the “reveals” might not be present with every ending. Not only is there a campaign that can go multiple ways, but also a challenge mode that sees you replaying broadcasts, now with stipulations added into the editing board. Modes like Switcheroo where the vision mixer is on the fritz, cutting to other shots randomly. Similarly with Inter-fearful where due to budget constraints the signal interference is more tasking.

Sometimes I felt like the game went in strange directions narratively that felt a little haphazard but upon my arrival to the archives, you can find out so much more of the finer details. The archive room has every piece of footage, used or otherwise to sift through, all with their own audio. This means those conversations between ads I can’t hear from the cast members are on full display. It’s an attention to detail that you could sink hours into, and hey, if NotGames have these hours upon hours footage, why not use it to breathe more context.

Original Pirate Material

Whilst a large chunk of the game will see you staring at the FMV footage, the rest of the surroundings are rendered in-game. The editing board changes look depending on your narrative, but they always look crisp and high fidelity. However, the visuals from outside the window of your office and the shots during your off days in the visual novel style are a downer.

They’re very basic in detail, lighting and for me they threw me out of any immersion I had with the game. I don’t think it’s an issue of “graphics” but rather an issue of art direction, the designs were all very basic and functional. Perhaps a visual flair to show personality would have made these moments more engrossing, rather than the opposite.

“I’ve been living in a paradise, it’s awfully nice, if you don’t think twice” are the words sung to a Tiny Tim-esque ukulele song in the loading screen. No other place can it be heard which is a shame because it sets a tone so uniquely to the game. Despite that though, the opening theme tunes of the National Nightly News, the performances from J-Zuss, Lil ‘C and HeatRash are all full of wit, charm and are weaved into the narrative so well, it adds to the scope of detail that Not For Broadcast goes for.

Final Report

Overall, the gameplay doesn’t have the same punch from my first hour to the last. I think it’s because the two prime elements are at odds with each other. I have what feels like true hands-on experience with an editing board. It requires my focus on all the buttons and dials, watching my live audience’s reaction on screen and trying to do my best.

But then I have these engrossing scenes that play out and I’m instantly a viewer, not a participant, here lies my frustration – I want it to play out. This may be a unique problem I have and to that point it’s hard to say I didn’t like playing it, knowing it’s not bad because I infer otherwise. This is new grounds for a game and one I’d welcome again if Not For Broadcast came back with a full-fledged sequel; but the job, felt like a job, watching the news, felt like the news and even those have moments of banality.

It’s an incredibly strong effort from NotGames and one I feel like I could recommend to even people that don’t play games because it feels more like a vocation than a “video game”. It’s written with such depth and subtle intelligence that I couldn’t help but think about Not For Broadcast with reverence. The elements that are more game aspects do hold it back, but the experience is great and extremely funny.

NotGames have commandeered the airwaves with Not For Broadcast. An immensely funny satirical romp through the lens of news broadcasting that really hasn’t been done before. Its specifically British tone might not click, but the surreal and poignant narrative is one to admire. The gameplay is overwhelming and it doesn’t develop, leaving me wanting more. However, if you like your FMVs and branching narratives, this one has it in spades.

Not For Broadcast is out now on PlayStation 4 (review platform), Xbox One, and PC via Steam.

Developer: NotGames

Publisher: tinyBuild Games

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here. If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.

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