Played on Windows
Also Available on Linux and macOS
Headliner caught my attention with a simple tagline “What if you control the national news?” Interesting premise and a question that made me wonder “What if I did control the national news?” Fact-based reporting? No slant? Spread the writings of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense… I could do so much. So what would Headliner allow me to do?
The fact is Headliner promises a lot with that tagline. It’s not an easy topic to gamify, or even discuss impartially. The fact that Headliner attempted it is rather impressive, and I do applaud the game for the attempt.
On the other hand, Headliner doesn’t live up to the promise, there are a few huge caveats to the question. The player doesn’t “control” the headlines, he chooses from a number of binary options. At first, the game starts with simple gameplay and gives the player five news stories of which he can approve or deny each story. He’s able to run all of them or none of them, and that could be interesting while being tasked to get ratings.
Headliner then has the player leave the office, and walk home, usually hearing a number of comments as he walks down the street related to what he’s been talking about in the news (or in the case of no news approved, placeholder statements). It’s a way to get a feel of what people are saying on the street. Finally, you reach your apartment and talk to your family about their days and a little about yours. After the discussion, the next day starts, and that was one of the seven days in the game.
If this sounds short. It is. It took me ten minutes to pass the first day while doing my first look above and I heavily stretched it out. I actually have done a speed run of the game linked below and was able to beat the entire game in under 8 minutes and 48 seconds. That’s very short if you don’t spend the time to look at what you’re doing.
First part of any day is deciding which stories to run with.
The other six days have a similar flow, however, there are small changes, the main one is that some opinion pieces are tied together, and you are forced to choose one or the other opinion to post. There are limits on how many stories you can run, or have to run (First one then the other) but overall these come up once and are quickly dropped. The fact is, I’ve outlined the entire gameplay of the entire game in a single page, and I struggle to add more to the discussion.
Headliner lives and dies on its story. The fact is the game itself is a rather simplistic visual novel with the illusion of choice. The problem is that illusion is a little weak. There’s a number of situations that the game presents. There’s a question of Pro- or Anti-Purity of genetic modifications, as well as a neighboring country that has a war going on and refugees from that country that want to immigrate to your country, and finally a question of the police state of your country. These three topics are the core of the experience here.
The game tries to do something interesting by making the Pro-Purity the persecuted group, where the genetically modified sounds more in vogue or at least the more popular. I understand the idea behind it, but it does smell a bit like making the Nazis the victims. The main issue I have with the theme is it’s so ludicrous it doesn’t work. The headlines are “Pure workers are ok” vs “Pure workers are a burden on businesses and should be banned”. It’s not even a question of “choice”. If the second article is correct, the ban it pushes for makes no business sense. I’m aware people push for dumb laws often, and many get passed, but it’s so ludicrous I can’t accept the stance.
Seriously? A lot of these stories are written just like this..
It gets worse when the next story is “Is your grocer a filthy unmodified?” Umm, what? That’s pretty hilarious to me. Finally, there’s this topic of if purists should be able to marry modified people talking about “purist rights” makes me wonder “Why?”.
Obviously, Headliner is trying very hard to lump racism and LGBTQ rights into one big spectrum and let the player decide the national discussion, but each of these is so hamfisted in, I can’t even attempt to take it seriously. Spending just one day with these questions was odd, but after 7 days of this poor story suggestions, I was quite disappointed.
Some of these stories are either or, such as the should purists be allowed to work, or the rights of purists and non-purists marrying. You are forced to choose one of the two stories, and they are intended to be opposites. Good idea, but the stories are so obviously pointed against each other it’s pretty laughable.
You walk home and hear people talking about how you’re doing.
At the end of each day as you walk home you’ll see the city as you walk the few blocks, and hear people talking about what you are choosing. Sadly most of this isn’t that important. Quite often you’ll have a task, such as on the second day, you’ll have to buy something at a grocery store, though a story on that day (“Is your grocer a filthy unmodified” for instance) might block you by placing rioters in the way. However, this ultimately doesn’t change much, just a few lines of dialogue.
The problem though is that’s the only thing that really changes with the story. The stories on each of the seven days, the rules of each day, and the game does not really change much. You always have the same stories to approve or dismiss.
Even switching the gender of your character and the other parent doesn’t change anything in the game, just which pronoun is used for you, and which of two character models your spouse is. The story remains the same even though you have different characters in place.
This dialogue is the same no matter if you chose a man or a woman as the spouse, or a man or woman as yourself. I get “gender neutral” but it’s just lazy.
Ultimately there are two major conclusions for the game. The seven-day schedule leads up to a big festival on the sixth day and how that festival goes does depend on a number of your opinions, but it’s very binary. There’s really only about three outcomes, and again the game goes big, but the result seems forced. At the end of the day, the choices are very binary even when it tries to have a branching patch. There might be an assassination, a terrorist attack or nothing, but those are all the possibilities. Even the end of the game pretty much shows you this as there are five lines telling you how each of the main pieces of the game worked.
The problem is the game is so short and these changes happen so fast, that it’s not really that important, and the link of cause and effect are very weak. There’s no real national discussion, there is no competing news source. You just decide which way the paper should appear and the game plays it as if you’re the only source in town.
Worse, the game at the beginning questions “What if you control the National News?” But you don’t control the News, instead, you get binary choices to represent this. You aren’t shaping the discussion at all. There’s a bit too much pointless gamification.
Early on the game tells you that you’re up for a promotion, get your ratings up so you can get that job. I’m not sure what affects this ending, or what “Getting your numbers up” is but Headliner leads says you should breed controversy. This is an interesting area for the game to exist in but it moves so fast. With no metrics and only two real lines of dialogue based around it, there’s not much meat to that part of the story.
Worse, it’s not even controversy that seems to get you rewarded, but Headliner says you should take a strong stance on the issues of the day. The game doesn’t want you to be wishy-washy, but instead wants a focus on the same side of each issue. Again, interesting commentary, but only said once.
You get very light feedback, but it’s not enough.
Neither of these are necessarily bad, but no time is spent developing these ideas. There’s definitely something worth looking into but when you only have 7 sets of choices, there’s not much that can be done.
I could imagine a game about the news media where we see the boss coming in and saying he wants the news to say X, but to do so would lose circulation, or a boss calling for more of a specific type of circulation, maybe asking the headliner to take extremist stance they don’t believe in. Perhaps the boss wants salacious articles about a recent mass murderer, but to print that might create copycats. But none of this is done. Just after 7 days you might or might not get the better headliner role, and that’s the game.
The whole problem with the story isn’t bad ideas though. It’s that the implementation is so short and fast, that nothing develops into a real idea with any depth. When you can beat the game in an hour, and future playthroughs are less than 30 minutes, how much story can you really develop?
And if the game is based on that short story? Is it really worth your time, or ultimately your money?
Ultimately, that’s the real problem with Headliner, it takes an interesting topic and then rushes through it so fast that you barely can enjoy it. I’m not sure if it expects people to play through the game multiple times, but I did play through the entire game at least six times and maybe closer to ten, and I only have 3 hours played here.
Admittedly, the game is cheap, but I can’t recommend it. The dialogue is forced on the player, trying to make the player care about a number of fictitious issues, but the entire game is so rushed, it’s hard to care when the story is over in a few minutes.
I have to award Headliner a
The fact is, I think the creator of Headliner tried something interesting but didn’t develop the idea or add enough content that it made Headliner into a game that’s worth playing. It’s a shame because the topic and concept definitely should be enjoyable. This attempt though isn’t what needs to be said.
Final Thoughts: Interesting idea for a game, interesting topic, but entirely too short. Speed ran the game in 8 minutes, the first playthrough takes only an hour. With no depth, it’s hard to recommend.
Stats: 3 hours played 23/29 achievements earned.