Headliner: Novinews (Switch) – Review
Follow Genre: Adventure game
Developer: Unbound Creations
Publisher: Unbound Creations
Platform: PC, Mac, Switch
Tested on: Switch

Headliner: Novinews (Switch) – Review

Site Score
7.0
Good: Well-written stories that get fleshed out more when replaying
Bad: Graphics are a mixed bag, music is forgettable
User Score
8.0
(2 votes)
Click to vote
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.0/10 (2 votes cast)

The world is becoming more polarized every day, with governments and the media seemingly at war. Headliner: Novinews is a game that attempts to capture the current state of the world by putting the player in control of a powerful media outlet in a dystopian world that has more than a little in common with the real world. What happens if you control the media? Will you agree with the government in order to keep the common people in check? Or will you expose their wrongdoing, even if it means rioting and the deaths of many?

Story

Welcome to Novistan, a fictional country in a near but undefined dystopian future. In this bleak world, where the majority of the population has undergone genetic modification, a storm is brewing, a result of growing xenophobia, an incompetent government and unwanted side-effects of both the aforementioned modification and a new drug disguised as a soft drink. There is a lot of information to take in here, and the majority of the events that unfold are indirectly controlled by you, the Headliner. Everything you see, hear and do affects the flow of the story, which is presented by news articles, dialogues between you and other characters and even graffiti on the wall of buildings. Because the narrative here is driven by the choices you make, it’s hard to define the story, as it will unfold differently every time you play Novinews. The game is designed to be played over and over again, with not just different choices giving you different outcomes, but your previous playthroughs affecting the story as well.

The basic premise remains the same: you are hired as the new Headliner for Novinews. Over a 2-week period, you will be tasked with deciding which articles will be published and which will be thrown in the bin. Depending on what you publish, you will steer the opinion of the general public, and affect the flow of certain events. Every night, after you finish your shift, you return home. On your walk home, you will encounter characters and listen to how your choices affect their stories. Take your co-worker Evie, for example: she’s an immigrant suffering from sickness due to unstable genetic modifications. She’s also dealing with racism and insecurities regarding her work. Depending on your choices, she will eventually blend in with the community or be deported. Pushing the flow of the public opinion is incredibly important here, and although you are likely to follow your gut on your first playthrough, you’ll eventually find yourself deliberately making choices that you’d oppose as a person in a follow-up playthrough, just to see what happens.

Graphics

The graphics are a mixed jar. On one hand, the character art in dialogue scenes is well designed, with comic-book style characters that display emotion. The overworld also works well, especially the lighting effects: depending on how the story goes, you’ll find buildings burning or explosions happening, and the use of lighting really causes these events to have an impact.

On the other hand, character designs in the overworld feel jarring. The model for the player character feels especially off-model, with lanky limbs and weird movement. This, combined with a limited color choice when it comes to creating a character, produces an ugly protagonist figure. Because this figure is so off-putting, it’s hard to identify with it, which makes it somewhat difficult to relate to the events that directly affect the protagonist. This is largely remedied by having more sympathetic character designs for the rest of the cast, whose individual stories are very relatable, but the impact of the larger overworld events is somewhat downplayed because of this.

Sound

If anything from Novinews will stick with you it’s the stories, not the music. When you look at the track-listing for the game, which -oddly- can be found in the credits, you’ll notice that there is a lot of different music tracks listed. In practice, however, the music feels generic and forgettable. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but nothing really stands out here. Then again, music isn’t the focus of this game, and you’ll be far too invested in the story to notice the soundtrack. Overall sound design is limited, and there is no voice work to be found here, which is a shame, as it could’ve brought the game to life more.

Gameplay

Each playthrough in this text-based adventure game takes place over a period of two weeks in-game, which translates to roughly an hour in real-time. There isn’t a goal, the game can’t be “won”. Instead, your choices determine the events that unfold, and your reason to keep playing is simply to see what happens. The gameplay is intrinsically tied to the story and consists of two phases. In the first phase, you are briefed by your boss on what you are expected to do for the day. Usually, this consists of approving x number of articles for publication, but you do get the occasional nudge in a certain direction because someone isn’t pleased with what Novinews is publishing. During the briefing, you will also get paid. The amount you receive depends on how pleased Novinews’ sponsors are with what you decide to publish: steer away from their agenda, and you’ll be paid far less than usual. Money is important in the second phase of gameplay. After the briefing, you’ll go to your office, where a pile of articles (and sometimes other paperwork) is waiting. You are then tasked with either approving or refusing each article. A slightly annoying design choice here is that you cannot undo your choice -even if you misclick, your choice stands. Even though you cannot undo these, you still have to manually confirm that you’re finished after going through all the articles, which makes the inability to undo a choice even stranger.

After approving the articles, you then go into the second phase of each day: the walk home. This part is actually far longer and more intricate than the first phase. Not only do you see the public response to your published articles, you’ll also run into a varied cast of fleshed-out characters. Talking to them will progress their story, and their personal views regarding current events really help flesh out who they are. In these dialogues, you have the opportunity to change the flow of events even more. Your brother wants to be a stand-up comedian, for example. You can choose to be supportive or dismissive. Events will unfold differently for him depending on the stance you take, once again adding more replay value.

The money you earn is spent in this phase: sometimes a beggar will ask if they can have money for food, your brother will ask if you can buy him medication, and in the local shop you have the opportunity to buy decorations for your apartment or food for your pets. Speaking of pets, you’ll have the ability to adopt both a dog and a drone, who’ll then inhabit your apartment. Any decorations bought will transfer between playthroughs -you’ll only have to buy these once. As money is very scarce in each playthrough, this is a welcome feature -you’ll want to save some money in order to prevent things from happening in a certain storyline. A nice touch is that if you save lots of money, you’ll actually see it piling up in your apartment, although it cannot be kept between playthroughs.

Multiple playthroughs are the key to fully enjoying Headliners: as you play through those two weeks, you’ll unlock new content and a new character. Certain events will refer to choices you’ve made in earlier playthroughs, even though the timeline resets every time you start over with a new character. This can make the game feel very meta at times. This is more than just a few easter eggs: the game was designed to be played multiple times. The draw is that you can see each storyline end in different ways, depending on what you choose. In this way, the game is also about self-exploration: which choices do you as a player agree with and which ones go against your intuition?

Conclusion

 

Headliner: Novinews is somewhat of an oddity: there is no goal or a way to “win” the game in the classical video game sense. The music doesn’t stand out and your mileage may vary on how the game looks. However, the stories are well-written and the characters are fleshed out and very relatable. This, combined with your ability to alter not just the individual story of each character, but the flow of events in the overworld will have you coming back to experience the world of Novistan several times. After your first playthrough, you might feel a bit underwhelmed and wondering about the lack of content, but once you play the game for a second time, things will click and you’ll realize you’ve only scratched the surface of what Novinews has to offer. If you’re looking for a game that is more about self-exploration and emotional impact than beating a high score, then Headliner: Novinews is well worth a look at.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.0/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Headliner: Novinews (Switch) - Review, 8.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
Sebastiaan Raats
Sebastiaan Raats


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