Let’s be honest—most people are not interested in politics, especially when it is present in video games.
For most, politics and gaming don’t mix. But for some people, like myself, that love when games have interesting political debates, finding a game with a richly political world is wonderful.
Now, after properly scaring off those who don’t want to get political, let’s discuss the indie game Not For Broadcast.
Because of the nature of this game, this review will be spoiler-light. I will mainly be focusing on bigger picture details I enjoyed rather than dissecting specific scenes. Trust me, it is better to go into this game knowing only the basic premise and little else.
Image from www.xboxachievements.com.
Not For Broadcast, to put it simply, is a self-described “propaganda simulator” made by the British developer team NotGames and published by tinyBuild. The most unique part of this game is the fact that it is a full motion video (FMV) game, meaning that the main bulk of the content was recorded in live action with real people. In fact, it broke the Guiness World Record for the most full motion video footage in a video game, with around 43 hours of footage.
Simply put, the work and talent put into this game is evident, from the continuity between broadcasts to the actors continuing to act even when the edit cuts away from them. This is often where you discover little pieces of the characters’ personalities and important worldbuilding details. Sometimes the gameplay can be a bit tedious, but otherwise, I think this is an incredible game that deserves to be talked about more than it already is.
For a bit of context, you play as a live broadcast editor for the National Nightly News, led by anchor Jeremy Donaldson. On your first night on the job, you broadcast the electoral speech, revealing that a pair of prime ministers now run the country: married couple Peter Clement and Julia Salisbury. They create a government under the name “Advance,” with the goal of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor using radical means.
A New Dystopia
I personally love this idea of an overly-liberal government. Most dystopian governments tend to be conservative, where there is a clear wealth differential and people are not considered “free.” Under Advance’s policies, the country is run closer to communism than fascism.
Additionally, this game focuses on those who benefit from this systematic change—you and your family—and you see your wealth grow from “Broke Ass Poor” to “Things Are Looking Up” in only a few days. This leaves you in distress about the choices you have to make later in the game.
Should you back Advance and its radical new policies? Or should you protest against unfair removal of wealth from the 1%?
Advance gradually expands its hold on the country by revoking the wealthy’s passports, requiring special Advance ID cards, and other, more concerning actions later in the game. The most noticeable change that you experience is arguably the censorship bar, which goes from only censoring curse words to censorship of ideals that do not align with Advance’s message.
This is the main broadcast editing studio. The four buttons on the left correspond to the screens above them, letting you change the camera shots easily. The center screen shows the current changes you are making, and the rightmost screen displays what the viewers are watching (it’s delayed slightly from the center screen). The bottom right wave is the current interference, and the center console has the censor bar and audio sliders. The top clock displays the time until the next advertisement, and the red, yellow, and green lines are the amount of viewers. Of course, the tutorial explains all of these tidbits as well.
Image from www.xboxachievements.com.
Fail one of these conditions and your precious viewers switch channels, leaving you to pay for their lack of viewership from your hefty paychecks.
Eventually, a rebel group known as “Disrupt” appears, but they are not necessarily any better than Advance. Instead of the typical clear-cut choice between good rebel group and bad government (like most of the dystopian genre), Not For Broadcast chooses to make parallels between the two factions. The government has made some pretty radical and controversial decisions, but Disrupt has too. It becomes very difficult to align with one side completely. When I was first playing through this game, I tended to side with Disrupt, but it definitely felt like the lesser of two evils.
The questions and politics presented by this game are thought-provoking and legitimately difficult to confidently answer or stand by. I was constantly wondering if I made the right choice, which is the perfect feeling to leave players with in a political game. It is difficult to discuss the plot of this game without spoiling shocking events, so I will leave you with this: if you like twists, choices, and politics, you should get this game!
Though the story is absolutely fascinating, it would be wrong of me to ignore how fun this game is to play. The mechanics presented here are very unique; you must flip between cameras all while considering the current conversation and who to focus on, censor curse words, and manage the interference that affects the broadcast’s quality.
Choices (And Non-Choices) Matter
Between these broadcasts, you are given various scenarios in your household that you must resolve. Though these sections are not as visually interesting as the broadcasts, the choices and moral dilemmas presented are difficult and still important to the plot.
Unlike some games (looking at you, Telltale), your choices generally matter here, and can sometimes determine the fate of the people closest to you. For example, early on in the game, you are given the choice of broadcasting an advertisement for a toy called “Mr. Snugglehugs.” If you choose to play it, the next broadcast will feature an interview with a boy who was severely injured by Mr. Snugglehugs. If you decide not to air the advertisement, a different interview will play.
This is an example of the “between broadcast” sections. As you can see, it is pretty simplistic compared to the hectic nature of the editing booth. It is here that you experience your home life with your spouse, son, and daughter.
Image from checkpointgaming.net
Not For Broadcast also changes its gameplay sometimes to reflect the current state of the government. During certain broadcast sequences, you are not given the choice of what sound effect to play; instead, Advance pre-selects it for you. This is a really neat way of showing the power Advance holds over the news at this point—instead of explaining that Advance has more power, they have it directly impact your gameplay.
I realize that I have been painting Not For Broadcast as a serious game about news and politics, but have I mentioned how funny it is? This game is hilarious! Pretty much all of the broadcast segments are funny and engaging. I often found myself distracted by the absurdity of the Sportsboard game or the sassy nature of Jeremy Donaldson.
And if there isn’t comedy, there’s drama. I have gotten chills so many times while playing! The acting is amazingly convincing and the conflicts are thoroughly captivating.
All in all, Not For Broadcast is an incredible game, mixing comedy, drama, politics, and morality, and I cannot recommend it enough. The storyline presented is intriguing, the world is well developed, the gameplay is great, and the whole game manages to be hilarious too.
If you have $25 to spare, I would highly suggest buying Not For Broadcast, available on Steam, Xbox, Playstation 4, and virtual reality platforms Steam VR and Meta Quest 2. There is also a demo of the first three broadcasts, so if you aren’t convinced to buy it just yet, feel free to give that a try! Visit the Not For Broadcast website for more details. It is a compelling 8-10 hour playthrough (multiplied by 14 for all the endings) that is consistently engaging and fun.