Not For Broadcast Review: Bleeping Swears for Fun and Profit
Nothing will put you in the right mindset for Not For Broadcast's Early Access release better than a brief explanation of who you are as David, the main character.
On the day of a major national election, you show up to clean the television broadcast control room only to receive a call from the show's producer. He can't make it, and he says you need to fill in. Don't worry, he'll walk you through it.
One hundred days later, you're still manning the booth, with the help of the occasional call-in to tell you about new responsibilities.
No explanation is given for why the default response to an absent producer would be to plug in the cleaner on his first day, nor is it explained why you are then permitted to stay in the position for months on end, even as the news being covered grows more and more dire and important.
If you're looking for a meaningful simulation that looks with solemn sincerity at the difficult decisions facing news media amidst the rise of fascism, you've got the wrong game.
That's not to say I'm certain the creators didn't have an intended message when they made this game. But while the point being made often feels muddled if not entirely absent, humor and riotous, panicked fun is ever-present.
Not For Broadcast Review: Bleeping Swears for Fun and Profit
Not For Broadcast is excellently paced. As soon as you pull up behind the switchboard, you're presented with a smorgasbord of screens, buttons, and switches. While it would be easy to overwhelm new players with options, the game takes it slow.
After choosing three ads (of an available five) to load up for commercial breaks, the game keeps it simple as the broadcast gets underway. All you have to worry about is switching between four cameras, ensuring that the active speaker is on screen. Well, save for the occasional reaction shot or wide-angle.
As you roll through the first segment, however, new complications start to arise. First, you learn about interference, a simple game of adjusting the height of a circle on a screen as it moves constantly forward, keeping it out of the interference areas. It's a simple task on its own that you 100% will forget about at least once later on. But don't fret: your system will shout at you as static takes over.
By the second segment, you're managing an interview with a blowhard actor, only to see him drop a swear not once, but twice in rapid succession. No harm there. You haven't been told about bleeping, but you better learn how to do it in the future in case you run into more swears.
And yes, you will run into so many more swears.
By the final segment, a properly sloshed Prime Minister is tossing them out like candy, and it's your job to hear them in real-time and bleep them on the feed, with the help of your two-second delay. Of course, that means having the volume on both the live feed to the booth and the broadcast feed playing at once.
It's chaos. It's also outstanding fun.
As David gets more entrenched in his role, the complications continue to increase, as does the importance of his job. With the world sliding toward fascism and a guerilla rebellion afforded none of the solemnity you'd expect for such a topic, your decisions on what to air and what not to air can change the world.
Also, try to keep the cameras off the streaker protestors interrupting the world championships of a sport where the entire goal is to not throw the ball into the basket.
Keep Your Eyes Off the Prize
The biggest mistake you can make as a producer in Not For Broadcast is paying attention to what's actually happening on screen. When you're trying to keep track of the various feeds and dials on your workstation, the last thing you have time for is taking in what's actually being said and done. But you'll want to.
The comedy in Not For Broadcast is over the top parody, the kind that you'll want very badly to pay attention to. For best results, however, you can't waste focus on listening to the writing or laughing as a family of awkward teenagers rap terribly about bullying.
The good news is, you don't have to pick between doing well and enjoying the game's generally-excellent performances. After each day's broadcast, you have access to a replay broadcast, where you can take in the ups and downs of your efforts.
You can also check the raw feeds on all cameras, so you can listen in as the news desk takes the piss out of the politicians on the remote, hearing all the jokes you missed while you frantically switched between cameras at the press conference.
Satire with the Subtlety of a Shotgun
Unfortunately, there's a lack of clarity in what the designers are trying to say with Not For Broadcast, and I'm still not entirely sure the answer isn't "not all that much." If you told me the only goal was to make a fun and silly game, I'd believe you, and I'd say they succeeded.
If the game was meant to have an impact on me, however, I'm left unsure of what that impact was meant to be.
I bounced back and forth between wondering if the far-left extremists claiming power are meant as a right-leaning critique on socialist movements or were a warning against the risk of faux-populists turning not-faux fascists when given power. If you come in inclined to think either of them, I reckon you'll find the game is speaking to you.
That's not to say the lefties in charge are the only source of mockery, however. The conservative constable decrying the loss of family values keeps a disabled person in his closet. The hyper-rich resistance is played up as spoiled, out-of-touch weirdos.
If South Park hadn't seen recent games that so perfectly translated the show to the console, for better and worse, Not For Broadcast might be the most South Park game ever made.
In the world of Not For Broadcast, everyone is terrible and worthy of mockery. How much mileage you get out of that will come down to how you feel about the current state of politics and media.
Not For Broadcast Review — The Bottom Line
- The learning curve is well-paced, and the too-many-balls-in-the-air approach to keeping things running is both fun and challenging
- Entertaining writing and strong performances keep every broadcast interesting and compel you to play just one broadcast more
- Choose-your-path interludes show the potential for interesting story development in the full release
- Video in the game's archive runs slow, desyncing the audio, which you would expect to be fixed before the final release
- Current gameplay is short, with just three broadcasts and two sessions of living your life away from the station
As someone who studied journalism, "you play as a news broadcast producer" is about as far from my ideal pitch as you could get, and yet Not For Broadcast had me hooked almost immediately. The game's characters provide just the right kind of stupid fun, with the cheesy commercials serving as a particular high point. I'll have footie star Johnny Hamsleeve's fitness video tune stuck in my head for days.
On a gaming level, the frenetic dance of bouncing from one feed to the other, all while making sure you don't have interference or let some colorful language slip by or shock yourself into an early grave, is simply a good time.
I'll be eagerly awaiting the full release, and will surely play through it a few more times in the interim just to see the rest of the commercials and how my decisions could have changed the way the story unfolded.
[Note: A copy of Not For Broadcast was provided by NotGames for the purpose of this review.]