What would you do if you were in charge of determining which headlines a news outlet ran: would you choose the stories that focus on the well-being of the masses, would you run those that hold a big effect on your nearest and dearest, or would you just do what you were told to make sure your boss is kept happy? These are some of the things you’ll have to consider in Headliner: NoviNews, the narrative-driven news-outlet experience (that’s the best way to describe it) from developer Unbound Creations that has just released on the Nintendo Switch.
You take on the role of the titular Headliner, the person who decides which headlines will be broadcast across the biggest news outlet in Novistan – a country that not only finds itself in a time of both technological and political disarray, but one that’s also full of citizens that are in desperate need of medical help thanks to the spreading of a mysterious illness. Times are dire right now, and with conspiracy theories and paranoia at their highest, it’s up to you to give the people something to believe in to try and help alleviate the fear and dread that fills the streets. Or not; it’s up to you.
Of course, the news you cover might not always be relevant or even the truth, with Headliner: NoviNews taking an almost satirical approach that hits a little too close to home at times. I mean, it’s pretty common place to see a news agency that sways towards particular views regardless of the truth in real-life, so why not in a video game, right? That being said, it does venture into slightly unbelievable and strange territory at times too, so there are moments where it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The main gameplay element of Headliner: NoviNews revolves around you working at your desk and determining which news headlines to run, with articles and evidence provided to you as you decide what to do. It’s a fairly simple process in-game, though sometimes there’ll be characters in the plot who will try to influence your decisions in certain ways – there’s no real right or wrong way to approach it, but the choices you make can affect an abundance of things (and ultimately how the story ends). It’s one of those games that where your morality will be tested by each decision you make, especially when you see yourself pushing some stories aside in order to publish something a bit more trivial. It adds a sense of discomfort for the player; not in a bad way, but in that way where you know you’re doing something wrong, but still do it anyway. It’s good stuff.
When you’re not influencing the news of Novistan, you’ll be able to walk through the streets and see the repercussions of the stories that you run. Whilst it might seem a relatively peaceful (and I use that term loosely) place to being with, you’ll soon see it take a desperate and dysfunctional turn with graffiti adorning the walls, riots breaking out, and ill citizens suffering on the pathways thanks to the stories you’ve spread – that’s just naming a few of the things you can expect to see across the game too. It’s a very effective way of showing how the actions that you take are shaking up Novistan as a whole, with the consequences of your actions (both the good and bad) always evident on the streets.
With all of the different actions you can take and ways you can affect the outcome, Headliner: NoviNews isn’t the sort of game that you’ll want to play through once. I had a real urge to see how the different actions I took would change the lives of the citizens of Novistan, my colleagues in the game, and the life of my own character – there were more than a few occasions whilst playing where I found myself torn with what to do, so seeing how things could have played out differently on subsequent playthroughs was pretty neat. It’s a relatively short game at around an hour or two in length, so it’s not too much of a burden to play through and see all of the different outcomes too.
It almost makes Headliner: NoviNews feel like a Telltale Games release at times, with the choices you make affecting the story more than anything. It actually exposes a sense of linearity to the experience – on first impression alone I thought I was playing a news-sim, but it turns out that Headliner: NoviNews is more of a narrative-driven adventure. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it is worth bearing in mind if you’re going into Headliner: NoviNews expecting something a little different.
It could make the game feel a little bit linear at times, though. A lot of the same stories pop up again on further playthroughs, and whilst there is some element of randomness to their appearance, you can expect to see the same headlines time and time again. There’s only so much diversity that be added to the experience, and after a few hours play you might tire of seeing some of the same things all over again. It’s an undoubtedly neat game and it’s cool to see all of the different outcomes, but it’s clear the gameplay is lacking depth in some elements of its design – regardless of whether or not it’s satisfying to see all the different ways that the game’s story can play out.
Headliner: NoviNews’ take on news outlets and the influence they have on the world is both intriguing and frightening, with the many outcomes of the actions you take in the game proving that the world is ultimately shaped by the things that people see in the news. It makes for a unique and enjoyable gameplay experience too, though it is one that’s hampered by a lack of depth over repeated playthroughs.
There’s no denying that I enjoyed my time with the game though and seeing the many different outcomes of the actions I made was pretty eye-opening. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself tiring of the repeated gameplay formula by the time you get to your third or fourth playthrough.
Developer: Unbound Creations
Publisher: Unbound Creations
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC