Headliner: Novinews — Dystopian media management

Headliner: Novinews is a sequel to Unbound Creation’s Headliner, set in the same world.

Novinews opens as a 2D side-scroller, where you run about the city as expositional text floats above. It’s effective world-building, and seeing the various people and environments gives you a feel for the fictional city set in the not-too-distant future. As a default, the protagonist character model introduced to you appears to be a pale blonde woman — you can customize this character’s gender and appearance after the introductory section.

The character-creation menu is relatively inclusive, with three pronoun series to pick from and a variety of skin tones and hairstyles. However, once your character departs into the world of Novistan to do their job, it becomes glaringly obvious that the developers recycled the same character models to generate NPCs. More than once, I found myself running past Novistan city-dwellers who looked identical to my character. This was a bit jarring, given that the rest of the game is so thoroughly fleshed out. The recycled models didn’t seem to fit in with the experience of Headliner: Novinews as a whole.

Novistan residents walk down a dark city street as someone in a trench coat says "Watch out, Headliner..."
An ominous warning.

As for that experience itself, I found the gameplay both frustrating and satisfying. You take on the role of the ‘headliner’, the editor responsible for choosing pieces to publish in the nation’s most prominent newspaper. The actions you take and choices you make have direct impacts on the state of the nation, and stakeholders give you feedback at every turn — including your boss, your family, your coworkers and sometimes the Prime Minister himself.

The results of your actions are often shocking but somehow entirely believable. As you interact with national events and shape cultural narratives, it feels like there’s an intricate system with countless variables reacting to your choices. This makes the replay value of Headliner: Novinews incredibly high, as it’s clear that there are many different approaches and outcomes to the game. You also unlock certain content after the first playthrough, meaning you’ll have some new context and interactions the next time you play.

At the same time, Headliner: Novinews is also frustratingly binaristic. While there is a sense of a branching network of variables and the impacts of your choices, you are forced to select news pieces to publish that almost always land on two opposing sides of polarizing issues. In your role as the headliner, there is little room for nuance. There are several articles that offer progressive or conservative opinions on issues like universal health care and foreign trade, but few that critique the larger systems in place that regulate those things. That said, this is a limitation that Headliner: Novinews seems aware of, as other characters make reference to it quite often.

The headliner's boss angrily demands some changes at work.
Depending on your choices, you and your boss may not see eye to eye.

Ultimately, Headliner: Novinews is a fascinating experiment in media manipulation in a capitalist nation. It manages not to present any decisions as the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ones, which is sometimes rare in fictional narratives surrounding politics. I found it easy to become invested in certain issues and characters, but even without the emotional appeal, Headliner: Novinews succeeds in an equally if not more compelling way — I simply wanted to know what would happen next.

Headliner: Novinews is available now on Steam for both PC and Mac.

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