Minds can be so easily hijacked.
It must be very stressful to be the editor of a news outlet of any kind (an editor is probably looking at this review at this very moment and nodding solemnly Editor’s note: yep.). You have to work hard to make sure not only your personal biases aren’t present but also the biases of those who write the copy you’re looking over. Headliner: NoviNews is seemingly dedicated to proving that while that is the ideal way of doing things, it’s not always possible to keep those biases at bay. You are the Headliner, you decide what is or is not discussed on your channel, and you decide what the world around you thinks about the world around them.
In Headliner you take control of the producer charged with approving or denying headlines for the night’s broadcast. NoviNews is located in the nation of Novistan, a country currently on the tipping point of various issues that are sure to feel slightly familiar in one way or another. The people of Novistan have fully embraced the idea of genetic manipulation using technology developed by neighboring country Learis, but whether or not the tech itself is trustworthy has been thrown into question. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Novistan has begun to voice strictly anti-globalist policies and has threatened to cut ties with countries like Learis and deport immigrants living in the country. All the while, an epidemic has begun to spread like wildfire throughout Novistan, leading to questions about whether or not it would be the right move to nationalize healthcare throughout the nation. Not is all as it seems though, as something new and sinister seems to be brewing in the shadows.
It’s a heavy list of issues to be sure, but Headliner’s point appears to be not to take a side in these issues, but instead to teach the player that no answer is completely right or completely wrong. All you have to do is follow your gut, make a decision, and live with the consequences of your actions. While it might make sense to most that Novistan should be open to the world and not judge others based on radical nationality, the owner of the local convenience store sees it as allowing cheaper foreign chains to take away his business and destroy his family. Most might agree that healthcare is a basic human right, but moving in that direction will cause hospital wait times to skyrocket. Therein lies the main issue with Headliner: its goal is not to take a side, which leads to its heavy handed approach to these issues feeling lacking or muddled.
In terms of gameplay, there is very little variety to be found, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it means the simple gameplay can be put in front of anybody with minimal issue. Every day you’ll find a stack of headlines on your desk, pressing A or B will decide whether or not your network runs that story. After work you find yourself on the city street, seeing the effects of the stories you approved reflected through graffiti and the whispers of your fellow citizens. Using your daily paycheck you can buy items for your apartment such as a jukebox, and even take in a stray dog if you so choose. These walks also give you the opportunity to talk to various NPCs such as your older brother, an aspiring but down-on-his-luck comedian, or Evelyn, a foreign correspondent for your network and potential love interest, depending on your choices.
Headliner is a short experience of just a few hours, mainly built to play over and over again to see how different decisions change how the story goes. Many interesting choices exist for you to make within Headliner, some I can’t say I was overly comfortable with making. The game has a lot to say and not much interest in whether or not it’s exactly what you want to hear. I think it’s an interesting experience that anybody with an interest in politics should absolutely check out, and its “no perfect solution” approach is very interesting even if it is oversimplified. The heavy handedness and the lack of gameplay variety make this game feel hard to recommend.