Imagine a world that has passed the brink of ruin. Most likely due to excess pollution and exploitation by its inhabitants. A place so damaged that most have given up and fled to parts unknown. I expect many would be picturing a somewhat dark, gritty, colourless environment right about now. Certainly not the sort of place you’d want to go sightseeing. Small Radios Big Televisions on the other hand, gives a tiny glimpse at a dead world that is anything but bleak and dreary.
Small Radios Big Televisions’ story sees you traversing a series of factories in what I gather is an attempt to restore the world to its former glory. There is very little in the way of a clearly defined objective though. Even the cutscenes which play upon completing a factory do little to concisely convey the storyline, focusing more on speculation between two unknown parties. To further compound things, these scenes are delivered as a muted, often garbled, dialogue with chunks of the conversation outright missing. Thankfully, the story isn’t the primary attraction.
Gameplay in Small Radios Big Televisions is split into two distinct sections. First is the exploration of the factories themselves. Each is represented in a kind of 2.5D manner; that is you can only view them from a set angle with a very limited range of rotation. Any on-screen element that can be interacted with will be highlighted when you mouse over it. Second, is experiencing the contents of the tapes found lying around the factories. While these allow for slightly less restrained viewing angles, movement is either non-existent or perpetual rail based. There is also little in the way of interaction within a tape; this being limited to collecting the key item and some flicking of trees.
There are some puzzle elements within the factories that will attempt to block your path. Most of these merely involve finding a missing cog, or operating a device. The only puzzles I encountered that were almost challenging were those that required rotating sets of valves to specific positions denoted by the markings on their handles. While exploring the factory sections is enjoyable, I would have preferred more challenging puzzles as those present hardly managed to scratch my puzzle solving itch.
Within each factory are three base cassette tapes – and these are the primary focus of Small Radios Big Televisions. Each tape offers a small taste of its own little virtual reality. The worlds depicted within range from mountain scenes, forests, caves, train tracks, and even an instructional video, just to name a few. I get the impression that the contents of the tapes are the result of the developers, Fire Face Corporation, asking the question “what would happen if the Amiga demo scene was turned into a game?”. The electronic soundtrack throughout only reinforces this feeling.
I could quite happily leave the game running within these tapes — and outside some of the factories for that matter — as if it were screensaver, tuning out and relaxing to the combination of visuals and soundtrack. Much in the same way I would leave Amiga demos running. There may only be three tapes per factory, but their contents can be slightly altered by exposing them to magnets located in some rooms. Doing so is often required in order to advance the game, but even when optional it’s interesting to see how the contents of the tape have changed. Some of these corrupted versions of scenes are enjoyable as an experience in their own right.
You can everything Small Radios Big Televisions has to offer in around 2 hours. This is a shame as those two hours are wonderful and end all too quickly. In terms of providing a so-called “walking simulator” style experience, Fire Face Corporation have managed to forego many of the usual trappings of such games to deliver a more disembodied one which would have truly shined had there been more to it. Given the nature of the content, I’m also surprised that there is no VR mode available. Had one been available, I could see it further reinforcing the underlying message of the game — that people find it easier to escape into their own virtual worlds — to great effect.
On completing Small Radios Big Televisions, there is the option of revisiting the factories or starting over. I love the fact that revisiting factories is possible simply because it makes returning to specific music tracks a cinch. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for accessing the contents of the tapes. They will retain the last state you left them in and you will need to find appropriate magnetic strips to alter the tapes to find specific content variations. I would have liked to have been able to click on any unlocked tape icon displayed on the factory select screen to view its contents.
Those looking for deep, challenging gameplay are likely to be disappointed by what’s on offer here. People like myself however who also enjoy a more relaxed exploration based experience in between more demanding, heavier games, should definitely give some consideration to checking Small Radios Big Televisions out.
You can purchase Small Radios Big Televisions from Steam.
Screenshots are direct grabs taken via Steam’s overlay. There are no in game settings for quality to change. They have not been altered or modified.
Small Radios Big Televisions was obtained as a review copy courtesy of Evolve PR.