Not For Broadcast Review

February 11, 2022
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Deadlines, please

The older I get, the more I play video games to escape from reality. Deadlines, college classes, various tragedies and the pandemic are exhausting to deal with, and getting away from those things by booting up my PC is my only escape most days. However, it’s the titles that don’t let me get away from life that I consider to be the best. The Last of Us Part II, The Stanley Parable and Minecraft are my favourite games of all time because of how they mimic my reality, but none of those games come close to being as soul-crushingly realistic as Not For Broadcast.

Not For Broadcast’s realism is mostly rooted in its premise. In the game, you play as Alex, the newest news producer at the not-BBC. Your job is simple: every time an episode of The Nightly News is hosted in-game, you need to spend the length of the show choosing what the anchors will talk about, what camera angles will be displayed to your virtual viewers, what ads will play and when something needs to get bleeped out. 

The catch, however, is that Not For Broadcast is an FMV game where real actors play the role of the in-game anchors and guests. Ultimately, this means you don’t have that much control over what happens in every virtual episode of the news, but instead need to focus on doing all of your tasks correctly while occasionally paying attention to what’s happening on-screen for the sake of the game’s story. 

Funny, I said the same a similar thing in JDR’s 2021 Game of the Year roundup

This is to say that Not For Broadcast is about as exciting an experience as a 9-to-5 job is in real life. You need to switch camera angles every five seconds, play three advertisements per newscast and bleep out all the naughty words when you hear them. Occasionally there’s a random glitch with one of your virtual machines that you need to contend with, but if you mess up, the only real consequence you’ll face is a slight reduction in your in-game pay.

While the specifics of what you do on an in-game daily basis may be different from what you do in real life, the actual buttons you press aren’t. If you do everything that needs to be done in your virtual days well enough, you keep your job. If you don’t, you’ll get a reduction in your pay while keeping your job, but because in the current labour market, it’s not like there’s anyone else to do it. 

It’s this realism, then, that makes Not For Broadcast such an amazing piece of media. Whereas other titles resort to extravagant boss fights or cool mechanics, this game does the opposite. Most of the time you’ll spend in-game is boring, but that’s what makes the not-boring moments so much fun.

Those moments come often, too. Not For Broadcast’s story centres around the not-United Kingdom’s descent into a not-Children of Men-esque dictatorship. There’s lots of dark humour to be found in the game’s 10-hour runtime, but even the more sombre moments are brilliantly acted out. It’s an absolute treat to watch what’s happening on your four in-game broadcasting screens, and when something big does happen, that enjoyment is made all the more better by the banality of the gameplay. 

Yeah, heckin’ Geoff

There’s also a lot of fun to be had when it comes time for you to make a choice in-game. Although your decisions are rarely presented as such, choosing one advertisement over the other may result in a company creating a world-ending toy, or bleeping out a bit of hate speech could cause the entire in-game government to collapse. There’re more serious moral dilemmas, too, that mimic the very best story decisions in gaming history. 

While all of this may sound confusing or strange, the easiest way to explain what Not For Broadcast is, and why it’s so enjoyable, is by comparing it to 2013’s Papers, Please. Instead of manning a border checkpoint and punching passports, you need to punch a bleep button while manning the monitor in front of a TV screen. You’ll still need to deal with the same moral dilemmas, depressing wages and off-screen family drama that you do in that title, but the graphics are slightly better this time around and logistics of the game are as unexplored as 2013’s title.

It certainly helps, too, that Not For Broadcast has some absolutely bangin’ tunes and visuals. Although it’s often difficult to enjoy the music because of how absurdly depressing the song’s messages are, when you do, the music is definitely going to end up on my 2022 Spotify wrapped playlist, and the actors do an unfathomably good job at showcasing what it’s really like in a newsroom.

I am way, way, way too sober to be seeing people upside down

And, it’s worth noting that even if you aren’t a fan of boring gameplay or British humour, Not For Broadcast’s third act is easily one of the best experiences that can be found in gaming. In addition to monitoring a newscast and keeping track of your in-game finances, you’ll also need to contend with a conflict and a lot of technical problems in the final three hours of the game. While it may be difficult to sit through six-odd hours of boring gameplay in the first part of the title, the payoff is absolutely worth whatever strife you may face to see how the story wraps up.

Which means that Not For Broadcast is a lot like this review, I suppose. The premise and gameplay of the 2022 title aren’t exactly unique, and both are about as exciting as the introduction of Children of Men, but a strong third act and a surprisingly amazing music track make the title an incredibly enjoyable experience that’s well worth a play for anyone who enjoys reliving their experiences as an office intern.

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Not For Broadcast isn’t for everyone, but fans of 2013’s Papers, Please will not find a better title on the market.
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.