Headliner: NoviNews is a 2018 indie point-and-click/visual novel game made by Unbound Creations.
You are the newly-hired Headliner of NoviNews, the most influential newspaper in Novistan. Every day, you get a stack of articles, and choose which ones get in the paper and which ones don't. Simple, right? Well, not exactly, because Novistan is a country with lots of hot topics. From a xenophobic and controversial Prime Minister to fears over new genetic modification technology, from national-vs.-private-healthcare debates to a new artificial alcohol named BetterBuzz, everyone is looking to your paper for information. And every article you publish- or don't- will have consequences on the population's attitude.
After work each day, you walk a few blocks back to your apartment. Along the way, the streets reflect how things are going- stir up opposition to the government and you'll see protests, support increased police presence and drones will be whizzing by, and so on. There are a few characters that you can talk to each day:
- Evelyn "Evie" Rivera, your coworker. An immigrant from Learis concerned about rising xenophobia and inaccessibility of healthcare. Also a potential love interest.
- Justin, your brother. An aspiring comedian struggling with depression and anxiety. An optional side quest involves helping him get back on his feet and find success in a comedy career.
- Rudy, owner of the local supermarket. A single father worried about being driven out of business by foreign megacorps.
- Boss, your boss (obviously). Each morning, he evaluates your performance the previous day, and gives advice on how to proceed. Concerned with the paper's success rather than any issues.
These people are influenced by the articles you publish, but you can also help them and give them advice in conversation. This will have a heavy impact on their ultimate fates.
Furthermore, completing the game once unlocks another character: Helene, a police officer who you can help solve a murder. If you help her, she opens up to you about her struggles with PTSD and her personal doubts about the police career.
If you haven't guessed already, the game heavily focuses on Multiple Endings. The game itself is relatively short, taking place over 14 days, but multiple replays are needed to see all the different routes that unfold from taking different stances on issues. Any given ending is simply made up of how each character fared, the country's position, and the Headliner's fate. There is no Golden Ending, fitting for a game about complex political issues... but there are more than a few bad ones.
The game was preceded by the smaller 2017 title HEADLINER, set in Novistan's neighboring country (and fellow dystopia) of Galixia.
Due to the Butterfly Effect nature of the game, where almost all possible events are determined by the player's decisions, unmarked spoilers abound for consequences of actions. Beware!
Headliner: NoviNews contains examples of the following tropes:
- An Aesop: It is very easy for news media to manipulate "the truth" by selectively presenting information. Political issues are complex, multi-faceted things, and "taking a side" isn't always as simple as it seems.
- Assassination Attempt: If you take an anti-government stance, PM Wolff will announce his intent to give a live speech. Then you will be contacted by some mysterious figures who give you a story alleging that the government created the plague to specifically target Learian gene-mods in order to have an excuse to go after Learis. If you publish this article, Wolff will be fatally shot at his speech. (If you don't, he'll be impeached anyway, since it's too late to turn public opinion towards him).
- It can also happen to you if you choose to support Wolff's government. The brown-coats will try to get you to change your stance... and then eventually they'll try to shut you up. You will be saved if you adopted the drone and treated it well or if you also supported heavy police presence.
- Author Tract: Notably, the game manages to avoid soapboxing on any of the political issues you are presented with- every side has its benefits and consequences, but being a wishy-washy centrist doesn't get you anywhere either. It is, however, rather Anvilicious when it comes to the message about the power and responsibility of news media.
- Big Brother Is Watching: If you choose to support surveillance and police presence... drones and cameras everywhere. No crime, though!
- Bland-Name Product: Several characters make reference to in-universe media: the video games Happy Pigs, Scissors Please and Day in the Forest, and the television series Game of Thorns.
- Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Depending on your choices, you might the streets flooded with them as they throw molotovs at everything in sight.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end of a run, you get a note on your desk that comments on how you did, and also addresses you by your computer system's username. This trope really kicks in, though, on your 2nd playthrough:
A man behind a glass screen pulls the string of Novistan. Some have suffered, some have succeeded. But there was no one to judge. What if they could do it all over again? Would they make the same choices?
- Various characters will reference the fact that you're not the first Headliner. Justin tells you the definition of insanity (trying the same thing over and over expecting different results), theorizes about a comedy routine about someone reliving the same two weeks, and says that he hopes things will be better "this time". Evie says that you remind her of someone she knew "a long time ago". Your Boss mentions that he doesn't want to talk about the last Headliner and how they left.
- The first time you enter Rudy's store, Ada will confront you and say that she knows about all the timelines you've ruined (i.e. game playthroughs). She then tells you "You're just as biased as the rest" and "You're not a good person, [character name]".
- The opening text is changed:
I recently learned about the theory that our world is a simulation. What if we are all made by some sad manchild, drinking coffee and typing his days away? Hmm... I suppose his life is more depressing than ours, dear listener.
- In addition, the radio show host (Frank) combines this with a bit of self-deprecation on the developer's part:
- There's more of this in the same vein in your third playthrough, but then things go back to normal for the 4th+ playthrough. Presumably the developer decided it was better to let players have more tries at guiding the fate of Novistan without being constantly reminded of their past actions.
- Conspicuous Trenchcoat: The brown-coats (anti-government organization) who sometimes approach you in the street. If you get Prime Minister Wolff out of office, his replacement is noted to wear the same brown coat...
- Dystopia: Debatable at the beginning, but you can certainly turn Novistan into one.
- Fictional Disability: Modification Rejection Sickness, or MRS, is a condition where a person's cells reject their gene-mods similarly to an auto-immune disorder. Without proper medication, this can cause permanent organ damage.
- Job Title
- Love Triangle: Part of Monika's motivation for killing Sofia in the murder-mystery sidequest was that Monika loved Sofia's boyfriend and thought they could be together if Sofia was out of the picture.
- Motive = Conclusive Evidence: In the murder-mystery sidequest, all you need to do is assemble who had the best motive for killing Sofia. Report this to the cop, and the next day she will gleefully inform you that they found some more circumstantial evidence, and then Monika immediately confessed upon receiving a visit from the police.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The Steam achievement for completing Day 10 says "My god, what have you done...?"
- Order Versus Chaos: Prime Minister Wolff, who seeks to stabilize and strengthen Novistan at the cost of privacy and freedom, versus the Truthtellers, who seek to bring down Wolff even if it destroys Novistan society.
- The Plague: A central issue is a new virus that seems to only affect people with genetic modifications. Although it isn't shown to have any consequences beyond intense vomiting, it serves as a major source of fear for people.
- Propaganda Machine: Going heavily pro-Wolff will lead you to be hired for one of these, earning the achievement "Minister of Information".
- Purely Aesthetic Gender: Evie will date you no matter your gender, and you can even choose what pronouns you'd like to be called by, making your physical appearance aesthetic in the most literal sense.
- Replay Value: Completing a playthrough grants you the ability to participate in a murder-mystery sidequest on subsequent runs.
- Robot Buddy: You can adopt a surveillance drone.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: If you build a good relationship with Evie, she'll come to your apartment on Day 14. You share a drink, then the screen fades to black and she says "Oh, [player name]...".
- The Sociopath: You can at least come across as one in your conversation with the brown-coat, saying you have no loved ones. The brown-coat will even say as much.Brown-coat: Motherfu-...they didn't brief me for a sociopath.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: Things in Novistan are pretty much the same as today, apart from the prolific drones (both police and recreational), never-explained gene-modifying techniques, and synthetic alcohol.
- Video Game Caring Potential: You can adopt a stray dog, buy a suit for a homeless man to wear to his job interview, and help Justin fight back depression to get a good shot at comedy success.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: You can also leave Justin to wallow in depression and substance abuse, possibly causing him to fatally overdose. For Evie, you can get her deported by stirring up anti-Learian sentiment, or be so verbally abusive to her that you get the achievement "True Hate" for making her hate you. Rudy gets it worst of all: it's possible to start out being supportive of BetterBuzz, recommend he sells it, wait until he converts his store to sell it... then switch your stance and turn the public against BetterBuzz, leading to his store being burned down, and his daughter's death from being trapped inside. You get the achievement "Bad Blood"... along with a nice little What the Hell, Player? speech from Rudy.