Review – Headliner: NoviNews

PC

A brief note from our editor on publishing amid national crisis.


Developer: Unbound Creations
Publisher: Unbound Creations
Genre: Adventure, Simulation, Indie
Platform: PC, Switch
Rating: Teen
Price: $13.99

Headliner: NoviNews is a choice-based, dystopian game that casts you as the Headliner—the person in charge of the news. Poignant, well-designed, and engaging, Headliner has acquired multiple indie awards and proves the story-telling capacity of video games. If you have any interest in journalism, choice-based games, dystopian worlds, or intriguing stories, this is absolutely the game for you.

 

 

All of your choices matter and can impact your world-including if someone you care about ends up in jail.

Content Guide

Violence: There’s nothing graphic in Headliner, but violence is definitely present. There are assassinations, dead bodies, multiple suicides, tales of murders, a murder mystery, and police brutality—it’s pixelated, but it’s there.

Language: There may be some swearing, but not enough to really mention.

Sexual Content: If you date your coworker, there’s a brief suggestion you had sex, but nothing’s shown and the innocent among us likely wouldn’t even register the suggestion.

Alcohol/Drug Use: Drugs and alcohol are a part of the game and mentioned in news articles. There’s a new substance that claims to be like alcohol without the negative impacts that can be either widely used or condemned in Novistan.

Positive Content: The importance of true information, honest reporting, holding governments accountable, and searching for truth are all on display here. How politics genuinely impacts people is also made clear in Headliner.

As the Headliner, you choose what articles to put in the news, swaying public opinion and changing the world around you.

Review

Headliner: NoviNews is a choice-based adventure game where you’re cast as the Headliner, the person who gets to edit and curate the news. Based on what you choose to publish, anything can happen: riots, revolution, hate crimes, economic booms, police brutality, and so much more. And not only do you have the fate of your nation on your shoulders, but also the fates of those around you: the cute girl you work with, your brother, your pets, and your favorite shopkeeper. All of them can have various endings based on what you choose to focus on—including yourself.

The brunt of the gameplay involves dialogue choices and you approving and rejecting articles. Your day tends to follow a schedule: go to work, see the boss, choose articles, walk the town, talk to who you want, and go home.

My biggest and highest compliment for Headliner is that it avoids many of the pitfalls of other games like it. It is not just a visual novel where you occasionally choose dialogue but mostly just read. It doesn’t suffer the same fate of many choice-based games, where the impact of your decisions feels subtle or easy to predict. It also doesn’t take on too much for a simulation or dystopian game, instead focusing on the exact elements and pieces of the world it wants you to experience. The game’s inherent design is pure genius, balancing every potential flaw a game like Headliner could experience.

Your choices can greatly impact Novistan as a whole and the personal lives of those you care about.

And how does Unbound Creations do this? Through clear stakes, solid writing, a complex world, and well-designed replayability. 

By far the strongest element of Headliner is how high the stakes feel and how much you as the player encounter these stakes. Even though the main gameplay is dialogue choices and stamping articles, you feel and you know the impact of this. And if you haven’t figured out your impact by the second day, then you are either blind or not doing anything. The city will change, the streets will look different, people on the streets will say different things, characters will react differently, even the view from your apartment will change. As you progress, the stakes get even higher as riots, assassinations, suicides, or terrorist attacks all become potential consequences of your decisions.

And the stakes are two-fold. Not only do you hold the health, safety, status, and atmosphere of your nation—you also hold the fates of your personal relationships. Sometimes you know by publishing something or taking a side that you’re doing the right thing by your nation but hurting your brother. Or, you can risk your nation by making choices to better your brother, your coworker, or your favorite shopkeeper.

You can influence people to see events however you want them to- leading to all sorts of outcomes.

Sometimes money is at stake. Sometimes your brother’s mental health. Sometimes even your life can feel at risk. And sometimes you just like watching the world burn—so forget the stakes. You can feel all of these in one playthrough. And therein lies the genius of Headliner: everything has a clear, palpable, understandable consequence.

Nothing ever feels like it didn’t matter in some way or another, and because of this, every detail becomes important. Talk on the street becomes important, the lines for the hospital become important, the things your coworker says after work are important, and even what the billboard outside your window says is important, because they’re all clues to how your choices are impacting the world at large.

The second biggest strength of Headliner is the writing. It’d be incredibly grating if every detail felt important but then was terribly written, and luckily that isn’t the case here. The clear stakes help the text feel meaningful and important, but the quality of the writing makes it all even better.

Different events of the streets of Novistan tell you how your choices are impacting the nation as a whole.

Dialogue reveals details of the world and different characters’ quirks and personalities, and helps set the tone of the game. My favorite dialogue by far comes for your pet drone, whose snarky AI humor is the perfect laugh while the world’s in chaos. The writing of the articles also is important, requiring you to pay attention to what exactly you’re publishing.

Everything about the writing in this game feels polished, cohesive, and engaging, pulling you further into the story and experience of Headliner. The writing both on-screen and off-screen is what allows Headliner to be the masterpiece of an experience it is. The storylines are interwoven and intriguing, the world is detailed and alive, the conflicts are thought-out and complex, and the overarching narrative brilliantly highlights video games as a storytelling medium. The pacing, structure, and writing are top-notch, allowing the world and issues of Headliner to feel full-bodied and real.

The writing ties into my next point, which is the game’s complex world. You’re the Headliner in the nation of Novistan, a neighbor to Learis and Galaxia. You’re far into the 2000s, with genetic modifications being the norm, impacting modern science, technology, and healthcare issues. Your government is run by a Prime Minister and definitely has some autocratic bents to it. There’s no Bill of Rights in Novistan, that’s for sure. How much your nation feels like a police state, a dictatorship, an anarchist state, or a democracy is entirely up to your choices.

You can inspire an entire revolution and utter chaos through your choices.

There are so many layers to the world of Headliner. There’s a genetic pandemic on the rise, a new and potentially dangerous drug called BetterBuzz coming out, increasing tensions between Learis and Novistan, growing debates over foreign versus domestic industry—and honestly that’s just the surface. There’s mental health, immigration, economy, science, drug use, privacy, surveillance, police brutality, racism, crime, propaganda, false information, and conspiracy theories as well.

This is not a black and white, easily predictable, or true versus false world—not at all. Every choice you make in any of these issues always has a winner and a loser, and sometimes you’re not even sure how your choices will impact all these aspects of Novistan. Also, you’re never clearly told what is actually true. Never. Nothing is clearly, beyond a reasonable doubt, the absolute truth unless you just saw it happen yesterday. Even then, it could just be your interpretation of events.

In my first playthrough, I had a clear agenda: creating a revolution and securing national healthcare. But even though I achieved these goals, there were a lot of consequences I couldn’t predict and a lot of variations I could have chosen.

In my second playthrough, I was very wary of any clear agenda. However, even with my marked indecisiveness and refusal to pick a side on issues, I still wound up creating a police state because of how often I’d report on crimes. There are so many ways things can go based on every choice you make—and I absolutely adore that.

The shop allows you to update your apartment, see the shopkeeper, and feed your pets.

And that fact is why Headliner is endlessly replayable. It’s a rather short game anyway at about two hours for a slower playthrough, but all the other solid elements of Headliner make it entirely repeatable. The game acknowledges you’ve played before, with characters remembering the previous Headliner in various ways and varying their dialogue.

Headliner also adds a new murder mystery subplot in subsequent playthroughs, which also makes the experience a little different each time. But even without these new additions, the complexity of Novistan and the consequences of your different choices make it worthy of a replay. The options are almost endless, asit would likely take 100 playthroughs to explore every possible outcome. I’m sure the dialogue would eventually get predictable, but only if you chose similar options every time.

Also, the pace of Headliner is entirely up to you, so if you want to ignore everyone and just post news—do it. If you want to go super slow and see every detail—do it. You don’t have to sit through very much of Headliner if you don’t want to, which helps the replayability even more. You can even run right by your leader’s assasination if you really can’t be bothered. The choice is yours.

People can protest about all sorts of issues facing Novistan- from healthcare or lack of information to political outrage.

I’ve previously reviewed Beholder, which is similar in how they both explore the delicate dance between individual and government, and both require you to make hard choices and define your morals on issues. Headliner is also comparable to Papers, Please, which has a similar motif and has very similar gameplay to Headliner. However, Headliner surpasses both of its gaming relatives in that the stakes feel real and it doesn’t get monotonous over playthroughs.

It perfects the political question game. It puts the player in a genuine, semi-realistic scenario where they are the mediator between the government and its people. The questions Headliner raises around the power of media and the importance of free press and speech are timely and poignant. It’s a playable exploration of how politics impacts people, how information is vital to navigating the world, and how truth can be relative.

I’d one hundred percent use this game in a government class to educate on political issues such as media, misinformation, healthcare, economy, foreign relations, and crime. It raised points and counterarguments that I’d never thought of about these issues.

You can easily pet your dog as you watch the world burn from your apartment.

It isn’t an educational game—that’s not the point. It’s not a political game with a real-world agenda or message. However, Headliner is a perfect example of a game that raises real-world political questions, inspiring the willing gamer to consider their own relationship with media, the press, and politics.

It was up to me, as the Headliner, to give people opinions, to pick a side, to tell people what to think—they’d get upset if I gave them both sides or let them have a choice in the matter. That helps me, as Sydney, reflect on how I engage with media and reminds me that I shouldn’t be the same way. And that’s real.

Overall, I’d highly recommend Headliner to anyone interested in choice-based, gritty, or well-written games. I’d write papers on this game, I’d bring it up in a dystopian literature class, I’d reference it in my political discussions because it’s that poignant and well-crafted.

You can have a purely fun time watching the world burn, you can try to fix everything, you can learn from it, you can screw the world and protect your loved ones—whatever you want. The world is under your control because you’re the Headliner. And for $13.99 on Steam, there’s no reason not to go become one.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Headliner: NoviNews is an engaging, interesting game with a rich story, and what you publish as a national news editor truly impacts the world around you.

 

9.0

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Sydney Stoddard

In love with people, words, and justice, Sydney Stoddard is a jack-of-all-trades writer out of Las Vegas, Nevada. Sydney is an English major at UNLV, studying literature, writing, and storytelling. In her spare time, you can find her meeting friends, writing about anything and everything, managing websites and advocating for anti-trafficking organizations. You can check out more of her writing at: http://sydneystoddard.com

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