Look, Ma! I’m on TV!
Sort of. Actually, I’m the guy behind the scenes. I’m running the entire operation—or at least trying to. I’m sitting in a booth, surrounded by an array of plugs, buttons, and knobs whose purpose I’m not entirely sure of. I might as well have a blindfold on at times. It’s in this chaos that the brilliance of Not For Broadcast is revealed. The game is at its best when you have absolutely no idea what’s going on, which, if you’re like me, is quite often.
In Not For Broadcast, I’m placed at the helm of a broadcast studio for the National Nightly News, a whacky, never quite in control, news station. My job is superficially simple: mix, edit, and censor the news to satisfy the viewers (represented by the score bar at the top of my control panel). But, like the National Nightly News, things always seem to get out of hand quickly. The difficulty is juggling all the tasks I’m confronted with at once. I’m trying to account for interference while simultaneously making snappy editing decisions when suddenly one of my guests disrupts the broadcast with a string of curse words. My ratings begin to plummet.
Oddly, the controls in Not For Broadcast are intuitive. When first faced with the control panel, I’m a bit intimidated. But the built-in tutorial is effective at getting me up to speed, and the game does a great job of ramping up the difficulty slowly. By the time I’m facing nudity on the screen and thunderstorms at the station, I’m an old pro.
I’ve got to point out one obvious but important fact: all of the news segments in Not For Broadcast are actual videos performed by hired actors. Truthfully, I was a bit worried. This could have gone either way. It could have been pain inducingly bad or, as it turns out to be, pretty darn good. By just the second broadcast, when a man in full bondage gear falls out of a cupboard behind a conservative preacher, I actually find myself laughing. At these moments, Not For Broadcast feels more akin to watching a quality Netflix show than it does to actually playing a game.
Unfortunately, this sort of spawns one of the main problems. I can’t exactly follow the storyline too easily while playing the game. I find myself too caught up with the perfect timing and editing to pay any real attention. To be fair, Not For Broadcast offers me the ability to rewatch all of my work, so I could easily go in and catch myself up on any of the story I missed, but this feels like a chore. It would be ideal if I could naturally follow along with the narrative while focusing on the game, but I find myself too often overwhelmed by the task.
I’ve got the gist of it. The National Nightly News segments seem to mostly feature guests that are either for or against the status quo. You can craft the news more or less to your liking, and any decisions you make will have consequences. In between segments, I’m faced with events that are tangentially related to the goings-on of the broadcast booth. But the tone of these two sides of the game seem at odds. I’m confronted with super serious political decisions, but when I return to my booth, I’m hit with a barrage of Monty Pythonesque goofiness.
I know it’s not a choice, but if I could, I’d just stay in my booth and play through the game’s creative and silly segments. Whenever I’m drawn back into my apartment, and the on-the-nose political commentary begins, I find myself yawning. It’s not that I’m offended by it or that it’s not well done. The problem is that I just don’t care. The core of the game is so playable that I find myself eager to get back to it. I’ve seen this narrative played out before; I’ve never edited the news. Simple as that.
Don’t worry. The small issue of the narrative doesn’t even come close to undermining what’s good here. Not For Broadcast is easily one of the most unique games I’ve played. Not only that, but you literally see the work the team put in. The humour and the pacing of the videos pair seamlessly with the game’s mechanics. It’s chaotic, it’s stress-inducing, it’s beautiful. You’ll often feel like Homer Simpson sitting at the nuclear power plant blindly pressing buttons, but you’ll enjoy every second of it.