Headliner: NoviNews, Image: Chorus Worldwide/Unbound Creations

Spread Fake News or Embrace Integrity in ‘Headliner: NoviNews’

Entertainment Featured Video Games
Headliner: NoviNews, Image: Chorus Worldwide/Unbound Creations
Headliner: NoviNews, Image: Chorus Worldwide/Unbound Creations

What Is Headliner: NoviNews?

Headliner: NoviNews is an indie game in which you play as the editor of the largest news publication in the fictional country of Novistan. Every day you will decide which stories to publish and which angles to take. These decisions will have profound consequences that play out around you as you walk the streets of the city on your way home after work.

Headliner: NoviNews Age Rating

Headliner: NoviNews is rated ESRB T (Teen) and PEGI 16.

Common Sense Media officially recommends the game for ages 14 and up. Personally, I feel that younger teens and tweens could play under strict parental supervision because the storyline brings up many worthwhile, if difficult, subjects for discussion.

Trigger Warning: This game includes references to drug and alcohol addiction, suicide, chronic illness, xenophobia and racism, mental health issues, and death. Some of these topics are discussed in this post.

Trailer

Available Formats

Headliner: NoviNews is available on:

System Specifications

To play on Windows, the following minimum system requirements are required:

  • OS: Windows 8 (64bit)
  • Processor: Inte i3+
  • Memory: 1 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DirectX 9 Compatible card
  • DirectX: Version 9.0
  • Storage: 600 MB available space

While the following system requirements are recommended:

  • OS: Windows 10 (64bit)
  • Processor: Intel i5+
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DirectX 9 Compatible card
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 600 MB available space
Walking Through Novistan, Screencap: Sophie Brown
Walking Through Novistan, Screencap: Sophie Brown

Headliner: NoviNews Gameplay

In Headliner: NoviNews, you play as a lightly customizable character who has just been made the editor of the biggest news agency in the country of Novistan several decades in the future. Novistan is currently facing many issues, both global and domestic. Many of its citizens are genetically modified using technology from the nearby country of Learis and a plague is sweeping through the citizens, seemingly targeting those with modifications. There are also concerns about immigration, potential nationalization of healthcare, police presence and surveillance, a new synthetic form of alcohol on the market, and much more.

Character Creation in Headliner: NoviNews, Screencap Sophie Brown
Character Creation in Headliner: NoviNews, Screencap Sophie Brown

A game of Headliner: NoviNews runs for 14 in-game days and on each day, you will repeat the same sequence of events. You start out a game by customizing your avatar. You’ll get to pick a full name and your preferred pronouns—male, female, or non-binary, which is a fantastic option to see. You’ll have a few options for style and color choices, all of which are in a blocky style that makes South Park look like Pixar, but this isn’t a game you’ll be playing for its graphics. The controls for Headliner: NoviNews are simple. In fact, the entire game is pretty much played with two buttons. There is no combat or any other type of skill involved, you just need to spend time thinking about your choices.

Next, you’ll be introduced to your new boss, who is clearly based on Spider-Man‘s J Jonah Jameson, and Jameson Lite will explain the basic premise of your job at NoviNews. Every day you will receive a number of news stories on your desk, each one a sentence or two long. Your task is to read them and stamp them with either Approve or Deny to decide which get published. Some days you will need to approve or deny a specific number of stories, while other days it will be up to you to decide.

A Story Seeking Approval, Screencap: Sophie Brown
A Story Seeking Approval, Screencap: Sophie Brown

You will begin each day at work where the Jameson Lite will inform you of how many stories you must approve or deny for printing that day. Reaching your desk, you will find a stack of stories waiting for you (and possibly some other items like notes and letters). It is entirely down to you to decide which stories will go to print, keeping in mind advice from the chief—do you want to keep the paper’s sponsors happy or risk your income—and what you have heard on the streets during your walk home the previous evening.

After work, you will walk home to your apartment through Novistan. Here, you will interact with other characters from the game. There’s Evie, a colleague from work and potential love interest, a homeless man named Henri, Jamie—your brother who is suffering from mental health issues—and several others. You can also choose to visit the local shop each night and purchase items, as well as interacting with Rudy the shopkeeper. During each interaction, you will select from various dialog options that will shape your future relationship with that character.

Shopping at RudyMart, Screencap: Sophie Brown
Shopping at RudyMart, Screencap: Sophie Brown

It is these character interactions, combined with the news stories you approved at work, that shape the overall story. Depending on what you send to print, you will see the other citizens responding in a variety of ways. During your walk home, you will catch snippets of their conversations and see graffiti emblazoned across nearby buildings. Printing many pieces that side strongly with the government might lead to a police state with excessive drone surveillance, while printing stories against them could cause riots or worse. Pushing for healthcare nationalization may lead to long queues at the hospital, but endorsing private insurance might lead to many more people falling sick.

Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll spend time in your apartment. Here, you can listen to the community radio—another thing that will be influenced by your choices—and play with your pet dog, should you choose to adopt a stray. You can also choose to add furniture and decorations from the shop, if you can afford to. At the end of each day, you’ll click your bed to go to sleep and start over again until the game ends at the end of the two week period.

Listening to the Radio, the Billboard Outside Changes as Events Unfold, Screencap: Sophie Brown
Listening to the Radio, the Billboard Outside Changes as Events Unfold, Screencap: Sophie Brown

When the game ends, you’ll walk through the city and various sentences will pop up that summarise what has happened through your choices. Headliner: NoviNews is designed for multiple playthroughs and you will unlock new options after each game.

Expansions and In-Game Purchases

There are no expansions or other purchases required for Headliner: NoviNews.

Verdict

I have to admit that when I first started playing Headliner: NoviNews, I wondered why I was bothering. The graphics were atrocious and the dialogue was clunky and slow, needing me to constantly click to get through each interaction. Now I have completed a game, however, I am hooked and excited to play it through many more times.

Headliner: NoviNews is a fantastic look at the way the media influences the world around us. By choosing which stories to publish in the game, we get to see how those choices made by news editors the world over have real repercussions. This is something that many other games have played with in the past—even in The Sims you could make choices that influence how your character’s life and that of the people around them played out—but Headliner: NoviNews really showcases how the news influences millions at a national scale.

Interacting with a Colleague, Screencap: Sophie Brown
Interacting with a Colleague, Screencap: Sophie Brown

The best part is that even if you want to play honorably and eradicate fake news and propaganda, there are no obviously good or bad articles to publish. Everything falls into shades of gray and every story has a bad repercussion for someone. I played my first game trying to be as honest, unbiased, and balanced as I could, yet within 14 days I’d caused riots in the streets, a mass suicide, had the local shop burned down (with the owner’s daughter inside), and caused the Prime Minister to be assassinated! These were the statements that scrolled across my screen at the end:

I watched the city burn.
My coworker became gravely ill.
I watched my brother struggle with anxiety.
A little girl was an innocent victim because of me.
Who was I to judge?

A look at the #NoviNews hashtag on Twitter shows dozens of players posting their game conclusions and all include equally disastrous statements. It seems there’s no way to keep everyone happy, and that’s probably very realistic.

Chaos Descends in Novistan, Screencap: Sophie Brown
Chaos Descends in Novistan, Screencap: Sophie Brown

One issue I did have with Headliner: NoviNews (other than the slow dialog controls) was that the game didn’t always seem to remember my past choices beyond the previous day. For example, after approving many articles that were supportive of the government, I approved one that was highly critical. That evening, during an interaction with my in-game brother, he stated that I’d always been critical of them and he agreed with my stance. I also had a problem with saving which can only take place when you go to bed. At least once I had to repeat a day because the save somehow jumped me back in time.

While this is far from the happiest game on the market, it’s one I would highly recommend. We are all influenced by the news we read on a daily basis and Headliner: NoviNews helps us to see how that influence can be used to manipulate us all. I would particularly recommend the game to older teens who are starting to take notice of the news and engage in political and current affairs, however, I would highly suggest parental supervision while they play because many of the topics included are upsetting and you may wish to be around to help talk about them when they occur.

GeekMom received a copy of this item for review purposes.

Liked it? Take a second to support Sophie Brown on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *