Headliner: NoviNews by Unbound Creations
Unbound Creations released Headliner: NoviNews for PC last year, but Xbox and PS4 launches last week – not to mention plenty of positive IndieCade buzz and the game’s continued sociopolitical relevance – mean there’s no time like the present to jump into this news editorial simulation.
It’s hard not to compare Headliner: NoviNews to Papers, Please. They’re both set in surveillance dystopias with oppressive, overreaching governments; moreover, rubber stamps form the central mechanic of both games.
In this case, the stamps indicates which news articles are published and which are ignored. Unlike Papers, Please, the core mechanic doesn’t really go beyond that.
Instead, Headliner: NoviNews excels at showing how seemingly simple – even arbitrary – editorial decisions can affect public opinion and how that can spread in unexpected ways, influencing politics, economics and more.
More Than Just a Byline
Headliner: NoviNews takes a clever approach to this by highlighting things on both a large and a small scale. Public sentiment is easy to discern. Stir up the rabble enough, and they’ll riot…or worse. And graffiti is always a sure indicator of how people are feeling.
At one point, after approving some articles that the public apparently thought lacking in ideological cohesion, I left work for the day to find “WAY TO CONFUSE THE NATION, DICK” spray-painted on the side of my office building. But by interspersing the editorial parts with walks home after work each day, Headliner: NoviNews also provides a more personal touch often lacking in this kind of simulation, with recurring NPCs whose lives also reflect – and potentially influence – the effects of mass media.
Your flirtatious coworker, for example, is worried about a vote to nationalize healthcare; she’s got a chronic illness, and getting access to care is already difficult enough. On the other hand, your brother has some emotional issues but no insurance, and a government-run program would mean he could finally get help.
Ripped from Today’s Headlines
While the country of Novistan is fictional and set in the future – as evidenced by holographic political rallies and popularized genetic engineering – the plot’s issues are topical to the point of being nearly too on-the-nose.
There’s the obvious connection of the U.S. president’s ongoing feuds with journalistic outlets, of course. But Headliner: NoviNews feels especially relevant in light of the recent UK elections, especially considering that two of the main plot points concern national healthcare and trade relations with neighboring countries.
(Thankfully, it doesn’t go quite so far as to coin “Novexit” as a term.)
Good Night and Good Luck
The message can be a little heavy-handed at times, and Headliner: NoviNews arguably oversells the influence of a single news outlet even as it highlights the power of propaganda. But the character-driven drama makes what could have otherwise been a casual simulation so much more compelling.
I wanted to stick to the truth – and to journalistic principles – while still creating an outcome that left everyone safe and happy, from my coworker to the local shop owner to the stray dog that followed me home one night.
But multiple play-throughs – Headliner: NoviNews is meant to be repeated, and subsequent play-throughs feature meta-commentary via deja vu – serve as a reminder that in the real world, especially today’s ever-accelerating media landscape of news and propaganda, both happiness and finality are in short supply.
Headliner: NoviNews is available via the Nintendo Game Store, Sony PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store and Steam.
Watch the official Headliner: NoviNews trailer below: