Few games have had me as intrigued as Headliner: NoviNews. I’ve played various simulation-type games, but not too many visual novels, and Headliner seemed like a mix of the both of them. I’d seen it when it released on PC, but only recently had the luxury of time to play it, just in time for it’s release on console. In it, you play as an editor for a national news channel, and you’re given a set of stories to approve or deny. Based on these decisions, your channel will start to have a certain political leaning, and this impacts everything in the world around you.
Stay classy, Novistan
It took me a little while to get into Headliner‘s look and feel. Voxel graphics reminiscent of an upgraded Minecraft and typical visual novel style character designs when in conversation aren’t really my cup of tea, although it did grow on me to some degree. The town – even though it’s only a flat plane – looks significantly more interesting though, with plenty of uniquely designed buildings that draw you in and make you want to see what lies within them. Indisputably though, the best asset Headliner has in terms of presentation is the music. There are a small number of tracks in the game, but each one is well-tailored to the various situations you’ll find yourself in. As the news rolls out, the town reacts, and the music perfectly complements the actions going on.
Headliner does well in making your decisions actually have some weight. Each day, you’ll come out and you’ll see how the articles you’ve pushed out affects the country of Novistan, and the people you count as your friends and family. Each day that passes, there is a definite swing in the behaviour of people. Perhaps you’ve been sending out the articles that highlight Novistan’s superiority over it’s neighbours? You’ll notice your potential love interest get significant amounts of hate on the street. Maybe you’ve been publishing the articles on the benefits of free healthcare? Then you’ll start to see long queues outside the hospital, but also your brother will finally have access to the healthcare he needs to get better. You can even sway people to become far more suspicious of either foreigners, or their local Novistanians, by publishing only articles that highlight the crime where the perpetrators are of those nations. There’s a surprising amount of ways you can affect the story, and it really does demand multiple playthroughs so you can experience the vast differences in what could happen.
For a game of such widespread acclaim, Headliner doesn’t really have much gameplay to it. In fact, the game is frustratingly thin when it comes to things to do. You come into the office, stamp three or four articles to push your agenda – of which you only get to see the tiniest shred of information – and then you leave. Outside, you hold right, occasionally bumping into people and talking to them to learn about the consequences to your actions. It’s interesting to see, but there is only a tiny pool of stories to select from, so while the game implores you to continue playing, it does get quite boring quite quickly. That’s not to say the story gets boring, not at all, but there really isn’t as much to the game as the developers would have you believe.
The Final Score
Headliner is a game that requires you to think about your actions. You’re unlikely to get a perfect ending the first time, as there will always be some news articles you could’ve published or refused to publish that would give you a slightly different, slightly better ending. I did find, however, after the fifth game or so, I was tiring of it and I did struggle to get through it again, with all different choices. There are plenty of reasons to revisit it, but it does get tiresome before you’ll see everything, sadly.