In a world where the media has significant influence over its consumers, how can the flow of information shape a society’s development? Headliner: NoviNews seeks to answer this question by letting you play around with this power in the fictional country of Novistan. As a short, fun experience, fans of story-based games will almost certainly find something to love here.
In Headliner, your job is to sort through the day’s news and decide which stories to publish. Do you promote a new nationalized healthcare bill? Do you blame your neighboring nation for the strange epidemic afflicting your friends and family? Is that new pseudo-alcoholic beverage really safe? These are just a few of the choices you’ll have to make during your journey.
At first, things are relatively easy; you get free rein to publish whatever and however many stories you want. Things quickly change, though. Early in your stead, your boss starts pressuring you to report specific stories. Space limitations also force you to make tough choices about what to publish — and once you approve or reject a story, you can’t change your mind.
Shape the nation
The life of a Headliner can be rather stressful, even outside of your duties. The choices you make will drastically shape the nation over the course of your career. Headliner forces you to face these consequences head-on, as you have to walk home from work each day. Citizens comment on the news and will match their behavior to what you report. As the game constantly reminds you, what you publish becomes the truth.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the cast of supporting characters. There are three (four in subsequent playthroughs) subplots running in the background that often conflict with each other. Nationalizing healthcare may help your brother finally get the treatment he deserves but could inhibit your coworker/love interest from getting hers. Taking a pro-foreign stance makes life easier for your love interest, but it also threatens the livelihood of the small store down the street.
With all of these different choices available, Headliner: NoviNews encourages multiple playthroughs. I felt compelled to play it a few times to see how the nation would wind up after making different choices (except when it comes to the dog — I always adopt the dog). Luckily, the experience is incredibly short, only taking me around an hour and a half per playthrough.
A non-political statement
Going into Headliner, I was a bit concerned about how it would handle what could be seen as a sensitive topic. After all, we live in a world where we have 24-hour access to a very wide spectrum of news outlets. What we see and hear on these programs can have a very real impact on the way we perceive things. It’s not hard to find parallels between our world and Novistan.
The game does a fine job at making its point without getting overly political, however. By giving you control over the news, it allows players to insert their own politics into the universe if they want. I can potentially see some issues arising from how the game adapts to your choices, though. For instance, nationalizing healthcare always leads to longer lines at the hospital, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.
Even so, I never got the sense that these were political statements; rather, I saw these consequences merely as storytelling devices meant to force you to think about how your choices affect those around you and to increase pressure on the player to act in certain ways.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Headliner. There isn’t a lot in the way of gameplay, but with good reason. The gameplay here is just a tool to force focus onto the bigger picture. The fun doesn’t come from approving or rejecting stories, it comes from seeing the effects of your choices play out in the world around you. A short playtime and multiple endings encourage you to play a few times to see all the game has to offer. If you like story-based games, Headliner: NoviNews will make a great addition to your library.
A review code was provided by the publisher.