Before I start this review I should mention that I have wanted to be in publishing since I was a child. From the perspective of a child watching shows like The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty, I have found the job of Editor in Chief fascinating. As a writer now twelve years later, I still find the job captivating. Someone who manages editors, and plans the layout, finds assets for editors and writers to use, and writes their own articles.
So what does this have to do with a new video game published on Steam going into Early Access? Well, Above The Fold is a game about you becoming the Editor in Chief of a local newspaper. With limited funds and a modest demographic, you are tasked with becoming a news mogul. Around the same time I discovered my love of publishing, I found this worship of business simulators. Above the Fold is everything I have ever wanted out of a video game.
As you are the new boss, aside from the publisher, you have a lot of management to handle. You have to balance the budget with ad space, hiring more than three history buffs, a local reporter, and a health columnist; alongside balancing political bias with subscriptions. Which is funny as a Scottish person because, in the UK, the majority of news is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who shows a significant political preference.
You are also met with random events, such as plumbing issues and a homeless campaign asking for ad space at a reduced cost or on goodwill alone. I thought this would result in consequences such as a business refusing to take space in your paper. However, it seems the ramifications are based on political opposition, rather than the result of charity itself. It does seem to be more understandable that businesses would see the homeless campaign as a handout or capitalism’s unkind hand striking down a good cause. Alas, the focus is established as you pandering to one political side over another, rather than a business making money.
Nevertheless, I do have more than mechanic issues with the game. Now, as much as I relish the art direction, which is easily accessible and appealing, there are visual concerns with Above The Fold. The map icons representing articles to write and ads to promulgate are indistinguishable with their environment. This concern is resolved by the game’s day-night cycle. When the map turns to night, these bright and colorful symbols stand out from their background in those fleeting moments of darkness.
There’s one more important concern in my repertoire. There is a lack of audible depth. Yes, there are sound effects, in a surprisingly minuscule amount, but there is still a lack thereof. For example, the office is silent before starting your day, and on the map overview there is no city or town sound effects, resulting in what feels like a ghost town. The last area of silence is before print, where the industrial printing of your paper is expected to take place. Given progression does take time as you play every day in four years, you will find yourself yearning for music or a podcast to fill the stillness. This is not expressly a fault but does feel strange.
On the other hand, almost everything does feel in place. When I’m in the office and I’m faced with confronting a wall of numbers, I stop to organize my tabs, buy lunch for staff, and check updates. Nearly everything aside from doing work. I enjoy this respite, as it gives you a moment to breathe from the hectic nature of finding stories, finding writers, working on deadlines, and keeping staff comfortable. I have a problem with forgetting the staff I have hired. This isn’t good for morale, as if you don’t put their work on the front page, they get angry.
As much as I do appreciate Above The Fold, there are Early Access matters I think require addressing. Most notably, when scrolling through writers while in the map overview, you have to move the cursor over to an arrow which takes seconds out of finding articles. This would be solved by using the scroll function on your mouse, as it doesn’t have a function in the game anyhow.
Another problem I have had is with journalist moods. There are many indicators to tell you if they are happy or sad. You have, how many top articles (headlines) they received, a quote on their mood, a mood percentage, and their preferred pieces to write. Simply a lot of information to determine how happy someone is, but no indication of what exactly pleased them in the first place. The aforementioned quotes are entirely vague statements such as, “Yesterday was fun. Let’s do more of that.” This would be good information if I could remember the article they wrote, but I can’t even remember their names.
These are quality of life suggestions that could improve the experience, which could be said of the finance tab as well. The finances tab features a wall of numbers, yet with a few charts and a real in-game-time expense report ticking down, I may have a better understanding of my outgoings. I have lost a great paper filled with wonderful writers as a result of my thoughtless spending on upgrades, forgetting monthly expenses being sky high, and considerably low income.
In conclusion, I think Above The Fold is a simulator that accomplished my personal desire for a publication simulation. However, do I think there is a need or want for it? Yes, there is a place for Above The Fold. I think with monetary support and player feedback Above The Fold will release as a pleasant business management game.
A PC copy of Above The Fold was provided by the Rasmus Rasmussen for the purposes of this review.