'Headliner' review: A lesson on how news shapes society
Available on Steam for P99.95
Everyone has an agenda, a something that stirs them to action in their day-to-day.
"Do the right thing."
"Love one another as you would want to be loved."
"Put your family's well-being above all else."
Those are all personal agendas that can be taken to heart to inform you of how you want to live your life. For many people, it's something they keep deep within themselves, that hidden ideology or value causing them to do things that fit what their personal agenda tells them they should do.
Now, imagine if you had the power to set the agenda of your country, while also being affected by the very thing you've put into motion.
That, for me, feels like the very premise of Headliner, and it expresses the pressure of upholding one's personal priorities.
The player as agenda-setter
Taking on the role of a Headliner for GalMedia, a news network within the fictional country Galixia, you're tasked with picking the stories that show on the news in order to drum up subscriptions.
While your minder in the network wants you to find an angle and exploit it, you generally have free reign to choose what stories get approved or rejected from circulation.
Stories you circulate work on the country like some sort of accelerated magical realism, as the stories approved for circulation will create the atmosphere that permeates the country on your walk home and how your spouse and daughter deal with the world around them.
The main gameplay mechanic of Headliner is in choosing what stories you approve or reject, as well as how you respond to your family when you get home from work for the daily dinner.
Spread across 7 days, the stories you approve or reject deal with a number of concerns.
To start, you are told there is a festival in Galixia, and a popular singer is coming to perform at the event.
Second, the rise of genetic modification has created tensions among the populace, between those who are "modded" and the purists who haven't received genetic modifications.
Third, a war in an adjacent country has also created tensions as immigrants fleeing that country are making inroads in Galixia. Your job lets you choose to affect people's public opinion, such as having people be more accepting of immigrants, or more hostile towards them.
Lastly, the tensions have also created a populace that may need to be policed. Whether your headlines support a police state or a freer one will depend on you.
The conflicting stories – you cannot publish everything, and the game will force you to make tough choices – create a society shaped by your decisions, and these decisions will translate into a number of different variables affecting the game and the outcome of a single playthrough.
Agendas at work
The agendas you set every day from picking stories for circulation affect the society you live in and your ability to attend to your family.
You're in the running for a promotion, which can help you because your spouse is sick and your daughter is aiming to get into a good college. The main problem of the game is in finding a way to balance your job with the needs of society and the needs of your family.
Picking certain news stories will help you get that promotion, but it may end up badly for society at large, as picking a very slanted angle over the 7 days can bring about chaos.
Other permutations of choices will affect your promotion chances in different ways, but can also potentially keep society and your family life whole, or at least as whole as can be done in an impossible situation.
A tale of two playthroughs
There doesn't seem to be an optimum path, but in my initial playthrough, I wanted to try to balance my personal stance as someone who writes news for a living with caring about my family's well-being.
I tried to start off by being even-handed with stories, pushing information above angled pieces that tried to put people against each other. This ultimately didn't work.
As the 7 days went by, however, I made a decision to put my family first. My wife fell ill, and my daughter wanted to go to a really good college. The highest promotion I could get would entitle my wife to get treatment without depleting our finances, and the pay raise could help pay for my daughter's tuition.
I grew more aggressive against immigrants, and focused on anything that would insulate the country so my wife wouldn't lose her job at the pharmacy. My wife became bigoted but I loved her anyway. I let my daughter go to the festival.
My actions led to someone firebombing the festival on my way home.
In the end, my wife suffered through her illness because I didn't get a high enough promotion, my daughter was safe and could go to college, and society was a mess because of my decisions.
City turned to chaos— Victor Barreiro Jr. (@vbarreirojr) October 22, 2017
People spat on refugees
Daughter got a scholarship
Wife suffered thru illness
I was promoted#IamHeadliner
In my second playthrough, everything I tried to build came to ruin.
I wanted to get a high-enough promotion to protect my wife from pain. I aggressively pushed for open borders and a pro-purist stance. I pushed for a well-known singer to perform at the event, despite being a purist. I also promoted less security and policing to avoid a police state.
Two people died in that second playthrough.
The first was the singer, killed by a sniper who was a likely supporter of genetic modification.
I got my promotion, but it wasn't enough as I couldn't drum up enough interest in our outfit to support the insurance premiums that would allow for my wife to get enough care.
Not that it mattered. My pro-purist stance got me attacked by the modded.
I died a few steps from home, in the virtual arms of my wife.
My daughter, as I found out in the epilogue, was branded a felon by the government.
My dogged pursuit of alleviating the pain of my wife damned my family.
A singer was killed— Victor Barreiro Jr. (@vbarreirojr) October 23, 2017
Refugees swarmed our streets
Daughter was a felon
Wife was devastated
I was killed#IamHeadliner
Headliner did not pull its punches, and I am thankful for it.
At its price point, Headliner is a heartwrenching balancing act of a game that I encourage everyone to buy and play while pursuing their own agendas.
When you're done, you can share the outcome using Twitter, and if you're anything like me, you'll want to cry if you mess up your playthrough as badly as I did the second time. – Rappler.com