True journalism or fake news? A ‘Headliner: NoviNews’ review

In a world where there is high tension surrounding the topic of media, and arguments for or against journalism in the face of being labeled as biased, “fake news,” Headliner: NoviNews is a true reflection of the landscape. Releasing on October 23 on Steam, the Unbound Creations team behind the indie game is aiming to put players in the hot seat of deciding what news is fit to print.

Players generate their own character, whom is thrust into their new position at the syndicated publication NoviNews as a Headliner. In this role, gamers are posed with the task of approving or denying articles at a glance. What ends up being published slowly but surely begins to take effect, changing your fictional home of Novistan.

The events of ‘Headliner’ unfold during a presidential race in the fictional country of Novistan.

The game play itself boils down to a very Papers, Please feel, where documents are examined and approved at a glance. Selecting certain stories do have a marked effect on the surrounding city. One errant article could end up changing the public perception of a presidential policy, or perhaps have a much more dire outcome directly on your coworkers. Headliner at its core however, plays more like a visual novel in that the story and dialogue is its shining point.

The main character finds themselves revolving around a small cast of folks to interact with including your boss, your brother, your coworker, and a local shop owner. Each persona offers their own distinct input in regards the events unfolding, and almost none of them fully align with each other. The dialogue choices here especially work well, as none of them come off as the “obviously bad” option.

Some story elements come off as incredibly heavy-handed in Headliner.

While a lot of the dialogue is great, some of the story elements can be a little heavy handed. The themes of truth vs. corruption are played out well, but sometimes feel a little less than subtle. Too often when faced with big decision points, the characters take on a bluntness that comes off as a little cheesy. One example is the conundrum of running a story that could help a big box chain move into the neighborhood, but potentially impact the bottom line of a local shopkeep. In these instances, the earlier variety in writing seen in the dialogue choices is sorely missed.

For being a relatively short game, Headliner: NoviNews makes a very good impression. While occasionally hokey in some of its storytelling elements, it gives players a lot of interesting problems that are legitimately felt within its world. As things begin to unfold, the surrounding area truly takes on a life of its own to make several memorable consequences to player decisions. The mixture of lovely art, side-scrolling navigation and noir-feeling music just further punctuates the point.

Final Score: 3.5/5

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About the author

Christen Bejar

Christen Bejar is a freelance gaming writer who started the local blog The Pause Button while studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For Nerdvana, Bejar reviews video games and also previews, recaps and photographs many local events from a gamer's perspective.