Full Motion Video games are like a 6 year olds school play, terrible but we are never allowed to say. Instead we smile politely and clap and say it was good. The heyday of FMV games was the early 90s when Sony released Johnny Mnemonic and became the first film studio to release a video game…back when the ‘video’ part of that meant just that.
Soon after Electronic Arts followed up with Mark Hamill in Wing Commander III (and IV). The 90s were awash with FMV games, Night Trap (1992), 7th Guest (1993), Phantasmagoria (1995). It was going to be the next big thing.
Full Motion Video never worked though.
The reality was very different from the hype. Usually offering limited gameplay and using second rate actors who couldn’t create a scene if they had a tantrum in a shopping mall. It was gamers who saw through the hype to realise they actually offered very little and the FMV game died along with punctuality, Fax machines and MC Hammers’ parachute pants at the end of the 90s.
So when ‘Not for Broadcast’ landed on my desk, I was less than excited.
A full motion video game with what looks like second rate actors in grainy rendered footage and cheap backdrops; where you play an trainee broadcast editor for a nightly news programme.
Look, it’s not that hard. Choose the angles, roll the ads, and bleep the swears, but as the tutorial warns you, just keep in mind that how you show these people will change their lives…and maybe yours.
The controls are simple enough and you are introduced to them well in the first level broadcast and the game is outstanding. You begin a year in the job at the start of a new government taking power and one of your first edits is a statement from the winning party leaders.
Things become more sinister and your choices are more subtle as the game advances. For example, having picked up the skill of editing out swear words over a couple of broadcasts, you are then instructed by the station boss to bleep out overly critical statements of the government as well. So when a faux gangster rapper, who spends the entire interview lying and talking garbage, takes the stage for an unrehearsed song that criticises the government, what do you do? Do you edit out the swearing and the criticism or do you allow it and make this prick a hero or perhaps allowing it will get this prick arrested? The choice is yours.
Not for Broadcast consistently puts you in these difficult and subtle positions; asking if you will cooperate to keep your job because you need to to keep your family together? Or if seeing what is happening under this new regime and the impact that has on your family, will you try to undermine it?
The impact of your choices plays out in text based updates of family life between broadcasts and is tied to what is going on in the country.
This heavy theme of coming police state and your facilitation of it is juxtaposed with the actual broadcast material which is pure comedic gold. So much so, that I don’t much care about my family updates I want to get to the shows. There’s so much going on it’s glorious.
Not only are the jokes puerile in that we frequently deal with the leader of a multi-national company called Rymmington Svist and at one point interview an ex-con called Tit-Wank Tony who unleashes everything on a live interview we might have secretly wished for in our head, but the stories and presentation of each item is delightfully observed and presented.
We have to manage a god awful teenage drama presentation about bullying, a bizarre new sport that has an imaginary round and is invaded by streaking nude protesters, a new tv show for kids about farm animals boufing, one of those inexplicable letharios that seem to do and offer nothing and yet are nationally famous lying in bed hosting a quiz about himself, and so many more wonderful characters that offer delicious comment on society. It is glorious choosing what to do with them? Do you deliver the clean edit you are supposed to or do you broadcast the rants that are supposed to be off-screen? Do you present the message these terribly self-righteous people want to deliver or do you show the tired, eye rolls of the individuals forced to share an interview with them.
Do you cut the adverts short to expose your lead anchor slagging off the guests he is returning to interview or not? There are lots of choices here and all of them are recorded in your edit that went out to the nation that you can rewatch at anytime.
Not for Broadcast isn’t without some small problems though.
I had occasional crashes and had to restart levels and failure and loss of viewers means you are sacked and have to restart the level as well. This can be a bit tedious as we’re running a show here and there are often lengthy things to repeat, but these issues were very infrequent and are enormously outweighed by the sheer fun the game consistently delivers.
Not for Broadcast is still in Early Access and some people like to leave Early Access games alone until they have launched, but you really shouldn’t here. It’s entirely worth it even as it is, despite there being more updates in the pipeline.
Not Games just released one of those, a second large update made during the lockdown of the last 18 months, which has not hampered their style or commitment one bit as they simply introduced an hilarious lockdown of their own in the game, developing a storyline about teddies that come alive and hunt people down requiring society to hide in our homes.
This allows all sorts of observed fun of lockdown; people wearing pants only on the bottom half, fake backdrops and people pretending to be outside, people caught eating lunch and not ready for the camera to be on them and forgetting to switch it off.
The death-teddies eventually invade the studio and become another difficulty to deal with as does a passing storm that electrifies some of the buttons making them unusable. The game winds up the chaos continuously with each broadcast and never lets you stop laughing.
I tell you this is the best Full Motion Video game I have ever seen and is one of the best games of any type I’ve played all year. An hilarious ride with stacks of replayability.
Not for Broadcast is available for about $25 and is worth every penny in current form with more updates to come. My Friends…the revolution will be televised, just put me in charge of broadcasting it will you.
From the makers of the Matrix… no news yet, but I am in possession of an immortal chicken.
No it’s not a euphemism for something rude, these things do go together. They are a glimpse of the kind of knowing humour on offer in Breathedge. It catches you off guard as you watch the opening cinematic of you being dragged towards an interrogation by some robots made from coffins….you’ll find out later.
Somebody Cut My Cable
A few days after I was given this to review someone cut my internet cable and I had to go somewhere else to download, update (trying not to forget my external drive) and shift everything onto my laptop just to get the game open to run. I was starting to feel like I was in ‘The Game’ and that this was some sort of meta pre-level of scavenging to prove I was worthy of playing Breathedge.
Having crafted together the ability to play the game I did not dare switch it off in case I couldn’t get back and my guy was lost in space to die.
…and I still have no idea why I am in possession of an immortal chicken.
Breathedge is a space survival sandbox game where you are constantly seeking out materials from the wreckage of the space ship you crashed in, to survive and improve your situation. It inevitably involves crafting essential equipment and tools to allow you to progress and in this sense it is rather linear and fairly standard, especially in the early levels. You are given a set of tasks to complete largely in a pre-designed order and you are prevented (by distance and no knowledge of location) from accessing other areas until crafting progression allows.
This is in ‘standard’ mode which is the story mode. Here there really isn’t much of the base building that you might expect in a sandbox crafter, rather you use discovered bases. Breathedge does offer a variety of play options which level story and freedom against permadeath, unlocked achievements and base building.
Breathedge is, graphically, a downright beautiful game right from the get go. The premise is that you have survived an explosion of the largest spaceship in human history, which it transpires was a funerary ship (appropriate). You are on it delivering your fathers’ coffin when the explosion occurs and now you must survive.
Progress, like any sandbox crafter, is slow and contained at first, but opens up at a decent rate once you get past the first chapter. Your problems scale with progress as you move from simply surviving and getting home to uncovering and becoming embroiled in far bigger machinations as the game switches from a crafting exploration game to a more liner adventure game in its final few sections.
A common frustration of sandbox crafters is obtaining enough of the right resources. In Breathedge common sense developers have prevailed and resources divide into two categories.
Firstly the basics to survive, ice, various nutritional elements for crafting into food and various metal and chemicals for tools. These basics are in plentiful supply and often floating around freely…you won’t run out.
Secondly the other stuff, materials for crafting into bigger items (once you have discovered blueprints), plastic, copper wiring, rubber, paint, etc.
These things are found next to or attached to items of space debris. So there is some clarity about where to look for stuff you need and the in-game encyclopaedia offers visual clues on where to find them. This clarity means progression is always possible and never too far away.
About Time… Wasting
There are some gripes about unnecessary time wasting that falsely lengthens game time for no purpose and it is all over the place. Journey time is one particular complaint, it takes a long time to travel anywhere initially and repeatedly having to return to your base to refill oxygen on top of that is annoying. Planning and crafting to bridge what, early in the game, seems a vast distance and discover a new base takes a long time.
Once you get there and realise you need to return to transfer your phat stack of collected resources, over several journeys it is most definitely annoying. I mean having unlocked or completed an area, what is the point in making me travel 4 minutes back to my original base just to collect some resources
This is space and the future, (albeit a 1950s Soviet stylised one) so why, once I have securely moved on in the game or discovered more bases, can I not activate a fast travel system?
This needless wasting of time is present all over the place; you see it in the actual crafting, where every object created needs a 5 second wait for it to be built. If you are making several components that’s a wait of a couple of minutes for no reason at all.
Health & Beauty
Health is another example, it is restored by sleep, but you literally have to wait staring at a screen doing nothing but watch a spinning sand timer for a minute in order to recover your health. It serves no purpose except to waste time, at least until you get the medical box blueprint to craft instant healing.
It is for this reason that some major reviewers have been unkind to Breathedge, but I think they’ve got it wrong. You see any complaint about this artificial and imposed pointless game lengthening (which I think is a valid complaint) is dispelled shortly after completing chapter one.
Very quickly after this point you discover a second base and rapidly open up triple the length of time on oxygen, bigger spare tanks to carry and even discover a vacuum cleaner rocket bike and begin whizzing around at quadruple the speed like a sort of space Hagrid.
So, all of these complaints rapidly recede and the only annoyance that remains is the short wait time for crafting items, but that, by virtue of being the only one, becomes trifling as the game opens up into a vast multitude of tasks to complete and places to investigate; it isn’t as if I have to do a stupid three minute puzzle every time I want to buy items cheaper, (yes I mean you Bioshock) and if it doesn’t spoil that game I can assure you by chapter two crafting items won’t be bothering you here. Aside from that, developers are responsive to the community and a recent update has increased the oxygen and tool durability in the early stages to improve your experience.
Breathedge is a wonderous game of beauty, discovery and adventure. The college humour jars at times, but like the annoyances of the early stages this too dissipates and a more confident game emerges.
In Breathedge there is always something to keep you going and I have lost hours into the early morning on repeated nights playing this because I felt I was just about to crack a puzzle or felt I would just investigate that thing over there, just finish off this last part of the task and I will have made significant advancement. Every achievement in Breathedge feels significant and getting that feel and commitment from a player is a sign of a good game.
You’ll get about 30 plus hours out of Breathedge and the developers are planning two free expansions later this year. It isn’t a perfect game or consistent and in some ways that’s a good thing. So, if you can see past the jarring frustrations of the first chapter (somewhat now patched), you will be rewarded with a visually stunning adventure based largely on a solid crafting background. It’s worth your time and you will enjoy it.
I still don’t know why they give you an immortal chicken, but it’s good for shorting out flayed electrics on space debris. I wonder if that’s how my internet cable was cut…
This isn’t really a game… this is a secret recruitment program for the Japanese whaling Industry. If you complete this game your download IP location is given to the Public Security Intelligence Agency in Tokyo; then a strange man in black shades and black badly smelling rubber overalls sidles up to you in the milk aisle asking you how handy you are with a harpoon and if you want to join the fleet? I can’t quite verify this because the game is not as straight forward to finish as I imagined.
The game opens up with a beautiful menu screen of a vast colourful setting sun as you rise and fall on the swell of the sea, backed by a great electronic beat; It all bodes well. ‘What lives below’ is currently a demo and the developer has created what they describe as four boss fights, taken in a first person perspective.
You begin on the wharf of a tiny island with one mock Tudor house and a small boat reminiscent of Jaws; you just know that at some point you are going to whisper to yourself, ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’.
The procedurally generated ocean swells are big, vast and combined with the changing lighting and weather it does a good job of creating a dangerous, brooding and malevolent environment. It all makes you feel alone and vulnerable, this is reinforced when you meet the first sea monster and it leaps vertically 40 foot out of the sea.
The four fights on offer see you hunt an electric humpback whale, a giant brooding octopus who might even pick you up and throw you around if you don’t keep moving, an oversized (incongruous) eagle and a bloody great Godzilla sized sea turtle.
They will all try to destroy you by smashing or shoving you under the waves and it gets quite intense and chaotic in battle at times.
Initially in seeking the monsters they stick to a generated route (except for the octopus who is clearly a sedentary obese octopus) but the moment you do them the slightest damage the creatures pursue you and the frantic battle is on. To succeed you need to do a variety of things, stop the boat from bursting into flames, repeatedly harpoon the monsters to wear down their health and deal with additional dangers like avoiding lightning strikes.
You can’t do these things at the same time as you might in a standard fps. In this sense you have to manage your situation, rather like Command and Conquer or Company of Heroes, frequently taking care of the needs of survival (repair and steering) trying to give yourself time to fight in-between these moments, all whilst under attack; It is challenging.
The difficulty is set reasonably high. It’s fair, but there is a sense of ‘Live, Die, Repeat’ about this; when you die you start again back at the island, have to hop on the boat and go find the sea beasts again. And you will die a lot to begin with as you adjust and find your strategy; that is as it should be in a demo presenting boss fights; these are meant to be the difficult bits of a potential full game, but it might be frustrating at first.
Then there is the weapon, you only have a harpoon and there is something slightly repetitive about this, despite an alternate fire mode which simply electrifies it. Currently this harpoon feels a little flimsy, there isn’t much noise or punch to it and you don’t feel you are using a significant weapon here. Things are also a little difficult to control overall because the ocean swell is so great.
During your adventure, you move quite considerably on the boat in terms of field of vision and it makes it hard to get off accurate shots against the monsters, so it’s just as well they are huge. These things are all just minor gripes though and the developer, keen for feedback, is perfectly able to improve on them based on what we can see already on offer.
What lives below has garnered lots of positive attention, surpassing 2000 downloads in its’ first week on Itchio; a sizable achievement for a young developer. They have just gained a Steam development page and it is amazing to think that this is the work of one 19 year old in just eight months. It looks good, is something different in style, has some impressive ocean physics and shows a tremendous amount of potential.
Currently you’ll get a couple of hours play out of it and it will be interesting to follow the development of the wider levels, weapons and story building. So head on over to Steam, follow it there and download this boss demo on Itchio to give it a go. It is free to download, but you’ll regret not giving them a donation once you play it.
…and if you do well at it, you’ll find me wearing shades and a black suit, serving you at the sushi counter with a car outside waiting to take you to harpoon training.
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