You wake up and head out to your job as the headliner for a major publication. After eyeing between the list of articles presented to you, you choose a few to push toward publishing and toss out the rest. On your way home, you hear a couple talking about your article from yesterday makes them worried about those dark-skinned foreigners. Farther down the road is a man vomiting painfully. Next to him, a case of a new experimental alcohol beverage that you promoted a few days ago. Not far from your home, the police are investigating a recent homicide. Was that your doing, as well? You don't have time to think about it; you have another busy day choosing articles tomorrow. Welcome to NoviNews.
Headliner: NoviNews is a journalism simulator of sorts. The player takes the role of a recently appointed headliner. Their job: decide which articles get published and which ones get the can. But with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The media they publish will influence the world around them. And with international trading, unstable health care, and experimental consumer products taking place, what they post could change the lives of an entire country.
The game isn't long. A more dedicated player could complete one full play through in about four hours. Though given the dynamic nature of the game, one playthrough isn't even half of what the game has to offer.
Those same dynamics will be the driving force behind what's so good about Headliner: NoviNews. Choosing articles is only a portion of what the player does. Talking to friends and family after work, purchasing items, saving money, and having to coordinate these personal aspects with your influential position at work. It establishes a sense of responsibility rarely felt in modern games.
For every article you publish (or choose to not publish), the world will change accordingly. Think pieces doubting the prime minister will sow those same seeds into the mind of your readers. Constant criticism can lead to political protests against said leader. It can grow to the point where government officials contact you, and further.
That's only one of many aspects to the world you have to stay in tune with. Foreign relations are fostering racism in your own country, healthcare systems are approaching major reform, a new form of alcohol is on the rise, and so on. The many issues on hand had ties to each other, as well as to your personal life. Can you push for public healthcare so that your brother can afford a therapist? How might that affect your coworker, who already is on a long waiting line for a medical procedure? Since many of these topics are prevalent in the real world right now, I already knew where I stood on many of these positions.
More subtly is the way it introduces all of the issues present in Headliner: NoviNews. Each new topic came into play in a fluid and natural way. By the end of it all, I was juggling more than a handful of controversies in my head. I hadn't even realized how deep I had become until I tried to tell my significant other about them.
Sometimes, these decisions have clear outcomes. Encouraging healthier foreign relations will lead to less racism at home. But at the same time, these actions have hidden influences. The locally owned supermarket has been doing worse and worse since a new supermarket moved in nearby. With society more accepting of cheaper, imported goods, they couldn't compete.
Everything about the game generates a sense of responsibility. I knew that these were fictional characters and that the world was one of 1s and 0s. But I still felt a sense of gravity behind my actions. After a point, I was genuinely stressed out about what articles to approve. I would sit there, just staring at the options before me, strongly contemplating what effect they'd have in both the short and the long run. Ususally when a game feels heavy, it's out of sympathy for the character or situation. But with Headliner: NoviNews, the weight was on MY shoulders, and mine alone. It was a horrible time, and I loved it.
With that responsibility came a certain sense of possession as well. This was MY news outlet. It's MY news. When the prime minister eventually called me fake news, I was completely taken aback. I actually felt personally attacked by the claim. It was an unfamiliar sensation to me.
As good as the game does at taking years off of my life, it has a few issues. Most of them pertain to the presentation. The graphics jump between a 3D, low poly environment, to clean and crisp stylized art of characters. While the music is somehow both fitting, and jarringly awkward.
The art direction for the game plays to little on their strengths, and too much on their weakness. You navigate and perceive the environment (your home, work, the streets) in a low-poly, 3D style. There was nothing inherently wrong with this. Everything looked well. The problem was that, upon interacting with literally anyone. Said dialogues take place with an interactive-novel style drawing of the character. These too, looked good. It was the conflict between each other that was off-putting. I like cherry, and I like garlic, just not together.
And don't think I didn't notice that the article header images were real photos ran through the Cutout filter in Photoshop.
Headliner: NoviNews' music falls under a similar issue. Except it only was a poor match about half of the time. When you're walking down the street, the music is just about perfect. It's got a droning beat with a lovely mix of electronic sounds. It represents the feeling of a modern metropolis falling apart rather well. But the rest of the tracks don't exactly capture the serious tone of the moment too well. When I was describing my decisions and the serious outcomes so far to my significant other, her first remark was that "it sure doesn't SOUND like it," given the somewhat happy go lucky tune emanating from my speakers.
While it was easy to identify these issues, they didn't detract from the overall experience as much as one may think. I mention that it can be played in one sitting because that is exactly what I did. I was captivated by the premise and its execution. I didn't want to stop.
Headliner: NoviNews does a fantastic job as placing the player in a rich, dynamic world. The game mechanics are the perfect amount of stimulation. Everything that happened, good or bad, felt fulfilling to experience. While the overall art/music direction may hinder the game's final score, it didn't hinder my enjoyment. That's why I rate it as follows.
I absolutely recommend playing Headliner: NoviNews. It has plenty of replay value. It's entirely engaging alone, but I can also imagine how much fun this would be to do with a group of friends. Clear a Saturday, sit down with a coffee, and dive in. You'll be glad that you did.
Headliner: NoviNews is developed and published by Unbound Games. It's the sequel and/or spinoff of their previous game, Headliner. It can be purchased on Steam for PC. A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.