If you had the ability to sway public opinion, would you use it?
Not only do you have the chance to do just that in the intriguing indie title Headliner: NoviNews, but you actually get to see the result of your choices every time you step outside. I played a few hours of NoviNews on PC last year; now the game is available on Switch, I was excited to jump back into the shoes of the Headliner.
The Headliner – that’s you – is in charge of approving or rejecting the news articles that get published in the city of Novistan’s local news publication. Simply by picking up the green stamp or the red one, you’ll be choosing what your fellow citizens read and how their opinion is swayed. Do you want to publish news on the mysterious product “BetterBuzz”, or would you rather report on why private health care is better than public health care?
In the beginning, it may seem like the choices you’re making aren’t that important, but as the days go by you’ll realise just how much influence your newspaper has over the population.
While the decision is ultimately in your hands, throughout the game you’ll have your boss barking orders at you, trying to force your hand in publishing content that he may have been bribed or threatened over. You can give your boss what he wants, earning yourself a proper wage by doing so, or go with what your heart is telling you. Unfortunately, doing the right thing often comes with the right of losing money or getting fired.
As Headliner: NoviNews progresses, the decisions you make will become even more difficult, and the game will force stricter parameters on you. For example, there’ll be days where you can only approve two articles and scrap the rest. This can be especially difficult when you’re trying to stay consistent with your viewpoint.
What I mean by “staying consistent” is that you’re likely going to take a stand when you start approving and scrapping articles. Are you for or against public health, for or against foreigners, for or against body modifications? You’re going to be making dozens of decisions and, at least for me, I try to stay as consistent as possible in choosing how to report the news. If you suddenly change your opinion, you’ll have people on the street accusing you of not knowing how to do your job, or calling you a fake. It’s a thankless job, but someone’s gotta do it. Right?
Although the role of Headliner is the biggest part of Headliner: NoviNews, there’s actually plenty more for you to do. You’ll only spend a few minutes of in-game time each day in the office processing articles. Each time you step outside, you’ll see the effects that your news has had on the people. Did you publish something that’s making people feel paranoid about the recent outbreak of a disease? There’ll be a line out the door at the nearby hospital. Decide to send through a few articles about the crimes happening in town? You’re probably going to be seeing a lot of police roaming about.
The rest of your time in Headliner: NoviNews will be spent interacting with people and the environment. You’ll have the opportunity to romance a co-worker or nourish a friendship with them; you can hang out with your brother, supporting him in his career or scolding him for choosing a reckless job that makes no money. Even away from the news desk, Headliner is all about making choices. Not only do you need to be careful at work, but you’ll want to choose your words outside of the office carefully as well.
Each playthrough of Headliner: NoviNews takes less than a couple of hours to complete, but there are multiple endings so it’s worth multiple playthroughs. That being said, much of the dialogue is the same, so after seeing the game to completion twice, I did find myself skipping through much of the text. The game does make an effort to keep everything fresh, having some new encounters that occur only on your second or third time through the game, but there’s a lot that’s repeated.
Despite the repetitive nature that comes with playing a game multiple times however, Headliner: NoviNews is still as enjoyable, intriguing and powerful a year after my first experience with it. The political air of the game packs a big punch and makes even the most laid back of players step back and think about how it connects to our actual current political climate. Headliner: Novinews has a powerful message and makes a statement (and it even includes a non-binary option for its main character, which is always a plus in my mind). It may be an ultimately short experience, but Headliner: Novinews is one worth investing in. Taking you on a twisting, heart-pounding journey, few games make you consider your actions in the same way.