Not For Broadcast is a novel concept. The player steps into the shoes of an editor of a live news broadcast on his first day and must use split-second decisions to cut the news together as it goes out over the air. It’s a unique idea for a game, but also one that works well. Players start with their first broadcast as they go through accelerated training where they learn about how to deal with camera controls, interference, and making a good “edit” as it’s called to keep the viewers interested. With each broadcast having three segments, the final of three segments in the first broadcast, the game also drops the idea of swearing that requires the age-old censor button.
The first broadcast does well-introducing players to the concept and why the game might work, the creation of a news program is interesting, and while the topic covered is a simple election, the characters and production values of the feeds that the player is challenged to tie together keeps the game moving. The writing, directing, and acting all are done extremely well for a small video game studio. The final segment of the broadcast does feel a bit corny but it also shows that the game can have a little fun with the story. When the newly elected prime minister who is drinking starts to cuss, it still feels like it can fit in with the concept of a news program even if it’s a bit bizarre.
Players are graded based on how they conform to the rules of the broadcast, mostly in how well their edit focuses on the action, or speaker, while not lingering too long on one shot, as well as the timing for transitions, commercial breaks, and if players let any swears be broadcast.
Sharp-eyed players will even notice a few hints showing how engaging each feed might be perceived by the viewer and the goal mostly is to drive the viewership as high as it can be by avoiding mistakes.
After the first broadcast, the player is given a few Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style prompts, with the majority relating to the broadcast and the character’s home life. Your brother-in-law, for instance, says he worries about the way the newly elected government is trying to suspend his passport as they want to ensure that the rich can’t escape as they are “properly taxed”. The scene ends with a choice, you can either choose to give him a passport for him to escape, or refuse him.
This is a typical decision in a game where “Your choices matter” though ultimately they tend not to. We’ll revisit that in a bit, but the important thing to know is that’s not entirely true for Not For Broadcast.
Eventually, after several choices, the second broadcast begins. It’s a week later, and in fact, every broadcast after this has even larger gaps of time, usually multiple months. It’s up to the player to make up what happened between that time or how those intervening broadcasts go, but for the most part, the player mostly will be seeing the most important moments of his broadcasting career.
The thing is, the second broadcast pushes the envelope a little farther. This will be a constant in Not For Broadcast, every broadcast introduces at least one new mechanic, one new idea, and usually a set of interesting story elements in the broadcast, such as the second broadcasting having a musical segment, with the player being told to switch scenes “along with the music.” Admittedly, this is the one part of Not For Broadcast that I was unable to master, and always ended up with minimal points, though Not For Broadcast doesn’t penalize players for failing the musical segments, thankfully.
However, the material covered in each broadcast does keep escalating, and after beating the game, I can report that every broadcast after the first couple left me impressed with the writing, and production values, and captivated by the story. I had to remind myself that this was just a piece of fiction, but I wanted to know what happened next. There’s also new functionality throughout the game making the player have to tackle new challenges.
However, the fourth episode is a bit special in several ways. Not For Broadcast was released in January of 2020, and was planned for four episodes, with the team producing multiple broadcasts for each release. In March, as many people know, the COVID lockdowns happened, and Not For Broadcast being live footage, required the actors to be in person for much of their work, however, the team did produce an episode during the lockdowns called “Lockdown”. Inside it is a unique episode where the entire staff is stuck at home because a rampaging child’s toy is out to kill people. It’s a silly and strange idea for the game, but it oddly fits with the rest of the broadcasts as another extreme and unique idea that they toy with. There are a few new mechanics, but more importantly, there was a strange ending to the episode.
One of the characters sang on the show and started to refer to different choices I had made in the in-between segments, calling out that I cared for my daughter more than my spouse or brother-in-law. This was strange because it certainly was the choices I made, but after looking into it, it turned out that this is just one of six different segments that could appear in the episode, those are chosen from the previous choices, so players would get a special segment based on their progress.
Looking into this more, there are a number of these choices, and this is where I go back to the previous discussion of if “choices matter”. Without major spoilers, there are 12 broadcasts throughout the game, and over 10 endings to Not For Broadcast. The ending I got may not be the ending anyone else obtained. In addition, I got multiple unique segments depending on the choices I made, and from that point, I also found the choice of if I wanted to support the government or support a resistance movement to the government meant more to me as a player and even changing my opinion on it a couple of times.
But also after that same episode, Not For Broadcast gave players choices about the government, and players will have to choose if they want to support or rebel against the government. Unfortunately the game never really penalizes rebellion, even though perhaps it would be abrupt in real life. Even just general support of the elected government is hard to handle as the story continues to show more of the backstory, and you learn more about both sides naturally in the style of each broadcast.
There’s also an interesting underlying thread in the story about the nature of news programs, and how sometimes they are less about the education of the masses and more about entertainment.
Not For Broadcast has a lot to say, but also can deliver it in such a way players are going to be left thinking about Not For Broadcast long after they finish their last broadcast.
However, not everything is perfect here. While many segments are entertaining, the Headline segments are some of the rougher moments of Not For Broadcast. The headline system shows two images, and gives players a countdown before their choice is shown to the audience. The chosen screen will have unique dialogue but quite often it’s hard for players to make out what each of the two screens means. The choice the player is making and what the results are is left for players to figure out. Other choices aren’t always as clear, and the player might not even realize they are making a choice that will affect something later.
But the biggest issue that Not For Broadcast has is that players might not realize choices are being made, and even if they do, seeing alternate versions of the broadcast is less exciting at times. The reason is due to how choices are being made, a choice might be as simple as choosing to play one tape or another at a point in a broadcast. But that means to get a different result players will have to replay that entire broadcast. Broadcasts are usually forty-five minutes long, meaning that to see a result, players might have to be hanging around for the better part of an hour, and of course, they’ll have to still edit the show, because there’s no way to skip segments and if the audience is bored, they will stop watching the broadcast long before they get to the segment players want to change.
The broadcasts were good the first time, but there were a couple of crashes and that meant I had to rewatch the headlines on a couple of shows multiple times, and the second and third replays are not as interesting.
But worse, the results of a choice might not be immediate, rarely is a choice instantly rewarded or penalized, and instead players might have to watch at least one or two other broadcasts before getting to see the result of their choice.
Conceptually this is not a bad thing, and players will be rewarded with a show and playthrough that is unique to their decisions. That’s probably the strongest point in Not For Broadcast’s favor, the feeling that you got a personalized ending. But at the same time, any completionist will probably rage at this game pretty effectively. With at least 10 hours of playtime, and decisions throughout the game affecting the ending, players who want to see and do everything are probably going to be sitting through at least a hundred hours of the same videos, and that will likely not be that exciting to see the same pieces of footage four, five or six times in a row as only a small segment of maybe fifteen minutes out of a large forty-five-minute broadcast will change.
At the end of the day, that’s the biggest benefit and detriment to Not For Broadcast. It’s a very unique and enjoyable experience. I enjoyed every hour I put into the title, and every choice I made felt impactful, but after finishing the game, the idea of going and hunting down the rest of the achievements, alternate endings, or missing scenes felt like a nightmare.
Still, I’ve never played a game quite like Not For Broadcast, and because of that, I feel more than comfortable recommending the game to others, however, I also would caution people who don’t want to leave a game incomplete, might want to avoid the game as it.