The free press has built itself a bad reputation over the last 50 or so years; at least in the United Kingdom. For every amazing investigation into the phone tapping scandal that closed the News of the World down, you have many upskirt pictures of celebrities getting out of cars. It’s a hard balance because the news reporters have to work too; being impartial observers on the world events going on around them, but grabbing the editorial decision that can shape a story and maybe the actual journey of the events themselves. Headliner: NoviNews plays with that whole complex notion of how a news editor has to make decisions about what story they should run, and what should be thrown in the bin.
Headliner: NoviNews is set in a fictional western city in a fictional world, but is a game that has a very recognisable theme to the real world. You play the role of a news editor working for the big media firm NoviNews. You start each day sat in the boss’s office before proceeding with events; the whole game lasts over 14 days in this weird world, one in which the city is in the thrall of a sickness and civil unrest, police drones patrol the street and the parks soon become refuges for the homeless.
Your job, first and foremost, is to select which headline and articles the paper will run. You are presented with story choices that cover subjects like anti-establishment or ones that deeply question government policies. You also are thrown in with articles that show glowing support for the government and their stance to things like immigration. Via the utilisation of two stamps, it’s up to you to either approve the articles for publication or discard them to the bin. Each and every one of these choices is massively important to the outcome of the game and how each day unfolds.
But when you finish work you are left to walk back home to your apartment, watching on as various demonstrations, crimes, suicides and angry confrontations take place; all with your news seeming to affect the public. It’s also here where you get to build up friendships with people. There’s a co-worker called Evie who you go out with on a date, but she is worried about the hatred for her home country and the strict new immigration laws, and there’s your brother who has been having some mental health issues, but really wants you to come to his comedy night down at the local pub. It goes deeper still though, with a homeless man who needs help and a shopkeeper who is worried about his daughter’s future. How you react to them through dialogue tree choices is vital to what happens to their story.
When you manage to get home you can spend your wages on decorations, food for your dog or batteries for a police drone that has become as much of a pet as the old pooch. Each choice you make has direct impacts on how the game turns out in those two weeks, and you’ll be encouraged to replay the game because there are multiple endings and outcomes to take in and explore. The gameplay is good too, albeit a quite basic at times, even when taking into account the whole unique and interesting premise. It hits home hard too; how are you meant to get the truth out there when you have a boss telling you to stick to the government line, and if you don’t he is docking your pay? How will you then afford some more doggy treats? The game is however very neutral in its politics and does let you play how you think the world should be. But in order to take in all the endings that are on offer, you’ll have to occasionally play through things in the worst way, and that isn’t fun.
Visually, and Headliner: NoviNews has an amazing use of colour pretty much across all of its different scenes. The newspaper elements are run like a comic book or anime, but the street scenes are pretty, giving you an insight into the whole life of the world, encapsulated in a small scene portrayed over the 2D environment. You’ll find people protesting, others being sick on the streets and spies lurking in the corners; I loved the tone of this world and could have spent ages exploring a much larger version of what is on offer here. Sound-wise and it all comes with a thumping and addictive electronic score that builds up the urgency of the coming political tension.
There is a very interesting and intriguing premise to Headliner: NoviNews; one that is a comment of the power the media have over world events. It’s also well implemented in how the media make editorial decisions that can help or hinder governments in power. I have to say that I enjoyed my time with the game and it’s certainly something deserving of multiple playthroughs, if only so you can unlock as many of the different stories as you can. In fact, I feel like there is a bigger game here waiting to get out, as it doesn’t quite go deep enough in terms of either the narratives or the gameplay. However, if you’re looking for something unique and fancy taking in a great piece of social commentary, then check out Headliner: NoviNews on Xbox One.