Not for Broadcast is a little More Southpark than 1984
I start my day in Not for Broadcast as any typical broadcaster would. I flip the switches, load up the adverts, and take a look at the four screens in front of me, wondering what today’s news will bring me. Will we be airing the interview with Peter Clement, the leader of the newly formed Advanced Party? I wonder if J’suzz, the thought-provoking hip-hop star will stop by to talk about his new album. Or maybe we’ll get to watch the sportsball finals, a riveting game where people throw ping-pong balls, physical and imaginary, anywhere but in a centrally placed large trash can.
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an FMV game set in an alternative reality 80’s U.K, Not for Broadcast puts you in the role of Alex. A man behind the scenes for the nightly news, and there is a lot of news to cover. The setting is a dystopian type world, but one that isn’t quite sure which side of the political landscape it falls on.
The first episode starts with the results of a national election being reported, as well as an acceptance speech from the winners. The winners are the “Advance Party”, an ultra-socialistic platform whose main policy is taking all the money from the rich and diverting it to the poor. Clearly, this will ruffle the feathers of those with the most wealth.
The leaders of the Advance Party are a well-spoken, non-threatening middle-aged woman named Julia, and a bumbling drunk bufoon who “tells it like it is”. It all hits a little too on the nose, but then again so does a lot of Not for Broadcast.
A brilliantly well-acted cast parodies all facets of pop culture. There’s the aforementioned political rapper J’suzz (pronounced like “Jesus”) that is a clear nod to Kanye West. I’m sorry, Ye. There’s also Sophia Rymmington, labeled by the lead anchor as “The Golden Goddess of Capitalism”. Her eccentric ways and multiple companies, including a high-speed railway that bores through the center of the earth, is a clear nod to Elon Musk. Hell, even her name is a play on “Remmington”.
As the man behind the scenes for each broadcast, you’ll spend the majority of your time switching between four different screens. Your job is to make sure enough people are watching and entertained. If the audience starts to fall, an audible alarm will sound and the lights above the camera board will go from green to red. Lose enough viewers, and the broadcast will end. Resulting in a game over screen.
Throughout these broadcasts, the developers have thrown in some narratively focused mini-games to keep you busy when the camera is resting on one subject for a period of time. These can range from mindless busy work to actively annoying when you forget the mechanic exists after not touching it for a while. Thankfully there are plenty of accessibility options where these mini-games can be toggled on and off. There is one that is quite enjoyable, however. With no context, it involves electrocuting sentient teddy bears hell-bent on taking over the world.
This sort of slapstick 1984, feels at odds with the melodramatic narrative beats interwoven visual novel style between broadcasts. You’ll be asked to make difficult choices pretty early on that effect the rest of the game.
As the Advance Party starts to make real consequential changes in the world, another organization, Disrupt, arrives to, well, disrupt. They are a militaristic extremist group aimed at taking down the Advance party. It’s all quite serious but again feels very much at odds with the farcical nature of the rest of the game.
Until about halfway through the game, when it gets dark. And I do mean dark. A main character suddenly commits suicide and the rest of the game starts to feel a lot more Orwellian than the first chapters would lead you to believe. The South Park “everyone is an idiot” narrative starts to feel too surreal. Especially as you must decide which side you want to take.
Your actions during broadcasts have a direct effect on which party struggles and which succeeds. Help Disrupt, and the world gets more chaotic, as more people become sympathetic to their fight. Show only Advance Party propaganda and Disrupts numbers will be as fleeting as the rights of the nation.
These choices, though bold and thought-provoking, never seem to have a right answer. And I believe that’s the point. Both parties represent an extreme ideology. One that most people would never agree with. But they don’t actually have to agree, because the change happens slowly.
The game takes place over the course of several years. What seems to be a fairly socialistic but altogether harmless government, soon turns full Big Brother. And Disrupt, a small passionate group of protestors, turn militaristic almost overnight.
Not for Broadcast could have been a bit more subtle in its themes. It lays on the camp and then fully reverses to lay on the dread. As if it to tell us “This all happened while you were laughing. Why couldn’t you have paid more attention?”
Depending on your playthrough, you may be disappointed in the ending you receive. I would recommend multiple playthroughs to unlock as many endings as you can. The game and narrative become more satisfying the more you learn of the story. And the more you learn about the care developer Not Games have put into the choices.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is definitely an ending I would consider “The good ending”. The secrets of both parties are laid out and the game ends with a familiar call to action, but one that rings true. I wish I would have gotten this ending on my first playthrough, as I felt disappointed the first time I reached the credits.
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At any rate, Not for broadcast is a fun FMV game that is worth your time. I truly enjoyed my ten hours with the game and look forward to going back and watching some of the rushes. Off-camera, the things said shed even more light on the world of Not for Broadcast. Enjoy your time behind the camera. And above all, try to make tomorrow better.