Headliner: NoviNews’ poignant narrative and weighty decisions offer an intelligent examination on a topical subject: the responsibility of media.
Headliner: NoviNews poses the age old question of whether society would rather hear a reassuring lie or an inconvenient truth. As the curator for a national news outlet, it’s up to you to sway public opinion by deciding what information to share and what’s best swept under the rug. Do you stick to the facts if it means sowing chaos? Is it better to adhere to a consistent angle even when contradicted by opposing evidence? Headliner challenges the player's ability to remain objective in a thought-provoking commentary on the terrifying power of media.
You are the Headliner for NoviNews, the primary news source in the nation of Novistan. The problems plaguing the country should be familiar to anyone who’s followed current events in recent years: a polarizing leader, strained foreign relations, a healthcare crisis, and domestic issues such as xenophobia. The news-hungry Novistanians take anything you spin as gospel. Publish stories promoting a “Novistan first” slant, and people will begin distrusting other nations and may even harass foreign citizens. Articles criticizing Novistan’s government will erode society’s trust in its leaders and lead to open protests. Remaining silent or indifferent on a matter has its own consequences as well.
Articles range from traditional reporting, to researched opinion pieces, to even conspiracy-laden sensationalism. What makes the game so engaging in the early going is that you ultimately don’t know what’s true. There’s little context for Novistan’s history so you’ll have to trust your own gut, especially since you can only approve a certain amount of articles. This leads to some real Sophie’s Choice moments where you’re faced with two vital pieces and one approval stamp.
Finishing up the work day and taking the eye-opening walk home becomes a highlight as you witness the gratifying, or horrifying, fallout of your choices first-hand. Expect to say “I didn’t think THAT would happen” often. These segments present great, logical payoffs to decision-making, proving that every choice truly matters. Headliner’s narrative only spans two weeks, so subtly does take a bit of a backseat in order to escalate situations to where the plot needs them to be. Even still, Headliner: NoviNews is effective at making the player absolutely feel the burden of influence they have on the population.
Headliner hits hardest in how choices affect friends and family. Each member of the small cast represents a key demographic. Your jobless, mentally ill brother might benefit from the passing of affordable healthcare. A friendly co-worker born overseas bears the brunt of society's views on foreigners. A jovial shopkeeper struggling to support his young daughter fears the damage that promoting globalization might have on his small business. On top of all that, your income depends upon pleasing your boss and NoviNews’ funding sources.
The characters are likable enough that you want to do right by all of them. In some ways you can, but not to the degree of handing out fairy tale endings. It’s a delicate balancing act illustrating that staying objective is easier said than done, which feels like Headliner’s primary message. Does the game get a little heavy-handed? Sure, but these varying viewpoints nonetheless show that there’s two sides to every coin.
Choices lead to a vastly different outcomes across multiple plotlines, giving incentive to replay the Groundhog Day-style story to witness them all. It may be tedious to click through the same dialogue again but experiencing the changes feels worth the effort. Headliner even sweetens the deal by introducing a new character and murder mystery subplot. Perhaps the biggest letdown is that as the story progresses it becomes clear that there’s a rather clear evil, which feels out of place among the morally grey issues. One of the joys of playing the first time is that, despite evidence pointing to the worst, you don’t know for a fact either way. Once this particular truth reveals itself, the game turns from an experiment in remaining unbiased and more about “what can I publish to stop this actual bad thing?” The game remains enjoyable, just in a different, less exciting way.
Headliner: NoviNews’ poignant narrative and weighty decisions offers an entertaining take on a topical conversation: the responsibility of media. Sitting in such a position of power challenges your morals in smart ways while being fun to boot. This is fake news worth investing in.
Headliner: NoviNews is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC. Screen Rant was provided a digital Switch code for the purpose of this review.