PEGBRJE: Water’s Fine and Headliner: NoviNews
Water’s Fine is a procedurally spooky diving adventure made by owch, the indie dev that brought us the previous bundle title 10S. Players are an unidentified diver, searching for something that can only be found at the depths of the ocean. What is it that this diver is searching for, I’m not entirely sure; all I can say is that the water is not fine.
For context, players will be diving off of their boat with a singular goal in mind; reach ‘the bottom’. It’s not an explicit goal, as there isn’t really anyone around to state a goal besides the cute dog on the boat. But it’s an ocean, there has to be something at the bottom, right? Well, to accomplish this, players will input directions and use another button to actually swim similar to a propulsion system or acceleration in a car. Unfortunately this diver doesn’t have that much air to work with, so thankfully there are these handy air bubbles to replenish the diver’s air supply. Still, the air capacity is abysmal, so maybe players want to expand that — well, that cute dog seems to sell upgrades for coin, so the diver needs to trade in their findings floating within the water. The deeper players go, the better the coin, so getting that loot is important to expanding air tanks and life capacity. There is a catch, of course; players must return to the surface to bank their coin, as the ocean shifts at every reemergence. Dying means losing all currently held treasure, so managing how much air it takes to get back to the surface is crucial to progressing through the title.
The farther players dive, the more perilous it becomes to return with the loot they’ve acquired, becoming a balancing act of decision making. Do players wish to push their luck, hoping for another bubble? Did they leave a few bubbles behind for the journey back, or are they stranded at the bottom of the ocean? The outcomes are few, but with the procedurally generated waters make each dive a perilous possibility. If you are a fan of dungeon crawling games that test your luck, but thought they might be a bit too violent, then this may be the title to try out. With two endings, who knows what one might find.
Headliner: NoviNews is a narrative experience made by Unbound Creations, an award winning indie studio, and is the spiritual successor to the similarly titled ‘HEADLINER’. Players take on the roll as the ‘headliner’ of the largest news company in Novistan, a fancy title for what is essentially the lead editor for the news group. Players decide what does and does not get published on each day, and then interact with their lovely city on the way home. Sounds somewhat familiar to another title from the bundle in Death and Taxes, so how does it differ? Well, in my initial playthrough I accidentally published a conspiracy theory, leading to revolts, my boss being arrested by the government and the president’s assassination. All while getting my brother a comedy gig and flirt with my coworker.
It was a fantastic trip. But also super depressing. So not only are there spoiler warnings, but there are going to be some discussion of some seriously depressing themes coming up.
Winding it back a little, Headliner is a game that follows a familiar style of decision-based gameplay that has been widely considered popularized by Papers, Please. Each day, players will be given some news articles with a headline and a small blurb to read through, along with whomever wrote the article and a symbol to indicate the articles ‘affiliation’. This is to assist with the sections that each article will cover, such as world news, health, police/law and recreation. These icons do not indicate the tone nor the message of the articles themselves, as many may be for or against different things but still grouped together due to their similarities; so world news could contain a looming war and trade deals, for example. This is all important in determining which articles to publish, either stamped with a checkmark or an X, as players may not want certain writings to be published for various reasons. Perhaps the article sounds super racist towards the longtime trading partner, or promotes a new drink that sounds too good to be true? There are even quotas that may need to be filled, so some times some articles may be axed due to time constraints. The decisions are completely up to the player.
It doesn’t stop there, however; once the news has been sorted, players are put onto the streets to walk home and interact with the world. Here is where players come into contact with the various individuals of the world, such as the foreign correspondent and fellow coworker Evie, the local smalltime shop owner Rudy and his daughter, or the player’s own elder brother Justin. Each has their own struggles and concerns going on in their lives, and interactions will lead to more decisions for the player to make in helping (or hindering) their lives. Every article published by NoviNews will have different effects on their lives as well, as while players think they are helping out the majority of the cast they know, the others are being hindered by it.
It’s this narrative of understanding that there is no right or wrong answer that makes Headliner so strong, that even after finishing the game and getting some ‘good’ endings I still felt as if I had failed. Even though I tried my best to help out as many as possible, even donating money to Henri to get him off the streets, I found that my resources being constantly split and pulled to their limits. There was no way to help out everyone, no matter how much I wanted to. Every article I published that supported one thing doomed another, even if I felt it was the right thing to do. Certainly not helpful with how divided the people could be, coupling with a President polarizing the people into distrusting their neighbours and foreign countries.
Hang on, doesn’t this sound a tad bit too on the nose?
(This is where I say to anyone that may be struggling with the pandemic, has trigger warnings related to extremely heavy and topical themes to please skip to the final paragraph. We’re talking mental health and suicide here).
Yes, if this game felt like it was hitting a bit too close to home that would be due to the fact that it is. Unfortunately for Unbound Creations, their creation came out prior to our current pandemic-fueled nightmare, but somehow managed to capture everything we’ve gone through unintentionally. Between the President’s blatant anti-globalism (still didn’t really want him assassinated though…), a pandemic that ravaged individuals for simply existing, questions about genetics and genetic freedom and racism seemingly building up at every turn, this game is almost a time capsule that came out before COVID did. Lightning in a bottle, in the worst kind of way. Events that occur can be extremely uncomfortable, even traumatizing to some, especially with the knowledge that they may have occurred due to the player’s articles and decisions. There is a certain event that occurs completely out of player’s hands, however; a multi-person suicide near Rudy’s shop and the player’s apartment completely shakes the entire city to its core. This is when the game begins to get serious about decisions, as everyone is looking for answers. It’s up to players on whether or not they give them.
— — — — Just putting this here as an indicator that those who skipped for the warnings are now safe!
When I first jumped into Headliner: NoviNews, I was expecting a title much like Death and Taxes or Papers, Please; a stressful game of decision making that forces me to make the hard choices while still being detached from those that are being ‘judged’. What I got instead was a deeply personal narrative in which the decisions I made were directly impacting those that I worked with, interacted with, and even cared for. No decision I made helped every person in the life that I was making for myself, leading to more and more difficult decisions before the end of the 14th day in which I was removed from active duty by the government liaison (which was the last day, so I feel like this was mandatory). Even after finishing the game, I sat wondering what I could’ve done differently, to help out those that I was unintentionally ruining or if it was even possible to help.
Headliner makes a point; there is no ‘good’ answer to these questions. There may have been some morally correct decisions to be made, but ultimately every decision I made was one I had to own, even if the events that followed were only caused by me ‘inadvertently’. If you’re looking for a title that brings way too much reality, with replayability as a new character is added after the first playthrough, then this is definitely a title to try out. It only takes an hour or two, but it won’t let you rest for a while.
a procedural diving gamewith two endings cw: horror elements In order to download this game you must purchase it at or…