The Media Killer

HIGH Controlling the masses instead of being controlled is a welcomed change.

LOW Figuring out viewer ratings is as difficult as rocket science!

WTF Why do the devs think I’m going to sit through this 14 times?

Not For Broadcast is a satirical TV studio simulator in which players decide the fate of the country through their daily program. This weird title from NotGames not only holds the Guinness World Record for the most Full-Motion Video (FMV) footage in a videogame, but also recalls noteworthy political indies like Papers, Please.

Not For Broadcast follows Alex Winston during his time as a studio director. It’s the ’80s, and after a heated election, a totalitarian party called “Advance” rises to power in a fictional country. As an employee at the national television station, Alex is charged with choosing the path that the media follows for the next seven years — is he going to be a propaganda machine for the new regime, or will he help a revolutionary group on their crusade for freedom?

The gameplay of Not For Broadcast consists of two major parts. The first and foremost is real-time studio management. Alex will take care of broadcast sessions, decide which advertisements to play, and censor offensive words and scenes during live interviews while also taking care of unexpected challenges inside the studio, such as equipment failure or being electrocuted due to lightning hitting an antenna. All of these functions are done by clicking on the relevant buttons on an in-game editing table which serves as the game’s HUD.

The second part is a sort of text-based adventure where Alex has to make difficult choices that decide the fate of his family and friends. For example, he needs to sign a consent form for his son’s summer camp. If he goes through with it, it might turn the kid into a brainwashed party member. If he refuses, the child might lean towards being an anarchist with a desire for change.

The choices Alex makes are truly impactful, especially the ones regarding family. That’s a selling point for Not for Broadcast, but what holds the overall experience back are the difficult-to-parse causalities of the choices made outside of family matters. The things Alex broadcasts will shape the future of the country, whether it’s propaganda or anti-regime, but the outcomes just don’t add up.

For example, in my first playthrough I supported the resisters by showing their content. By the end of the game, they went from being a group of peaceful protestors into a fully-fledged terrorist group committing suicide bombing on live TV and turning the country into a military state! I couldn’t see where it went wrong, so I replayed with more of my broadcasts supporting Advance. This time, there were no terrorists and this authoritarian regime was… not so bad?

So apparently, a dictatorial regime willing to use nuclear weapons is better than fighting for freedom? Not sure how that works…

Another unclear part are the viewer ratings, set from A+ to D. The smoother a broadcast is, the more views it gets, and the number of viewers is shown by a bar where green means more viewers and red means less. If the number of viewers falls into the red section, the broadcast fails and the player has to restart from a checkpoint.

Based on this setup, it seems logical to assume that the more viewers, the higher should be the rating — except that’s not what happens! I had broadcasts with high viewership that resulted in a D, and broadcasts in which I completely messed up that miraculously, received an A+! After more than 20 hours on Not For Broadcast, I still don’t know how this system works.

The story mode has 14 different endings and it took me 20 hours to complete just two. Unfortunately, fast-forwarding is not available in the campaign even after finishing the game, which means the player will have to sit through the whole broadcast 14 times to get all the endings — a truly exhausting design choice!

While there are some definite issues here, the thing that redeems it all is the black comedy. Not for Broadcast is a marathon of pop culture criticism, and every story arc is a reference to a real-life situation, from an outbreak of killer teddy bears that resulted in a national “lockdown”, to a rapper who claims to be from the street, but is actually the heir to the country’s largest hotel chain. Through its humor Not For Broadcast shows how powerful the media is, and also warns of the consequences that come from obediently internalizing all the garbage that’s on the air.

 Not For Broadcast is a different sort of simulator experience, and it’s also an experience that has a point — not only is it meant to entertain, but also to enlighten. Working as a propagandist will definitely change how the player looks at modern media and social networks, and that’s a powerful gift indeed.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by NotGames and published by tinyBuild. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is not rated by the ESRB but contains violence, mild language and partial nudity. There are some scenes where nude (but pixelated) protestors run across the screen. The are several cases of cursing and using foul language and scenes of police brutality and bloodshed.

Colorblind Modes: There are four colorblind modes available. Some visual cues such as colored lights exist throughout the game.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has subtitles. (See examples above.) They can be resized and altered. There are audio cues such as beeping sounds that help the player time their actions in the game, but there are visual representations for them as well. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game’s controls are remappable.

Ali Arkani
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