I’ve always been wary of games that try to tackle historical events, because they rarely seem to get their subject matter right. There’s something disrespectful about historical games like the early Call of Duty titles, which placed players into real wars that real people fought and died in, exploiting those experiences by transforming them into mindless entertainment for the masses. Tackling this kind of heavy subject matter requires a degree of nuance that bleak loadscreen quotations or pressing F to pay respects don’t even begin to provide.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday doesn’t share those problems. Created by Rockstar Games veteran and Iranian national Navid Khonsari, whose family escaped the turmoil the title aims to portray, the game tells the story of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which lead to the deposition of the Shah of Iran and the end of the Pahlavi dynasty. The influence of this period in Iranian history cannot be understated, yet knowledge of this point in history remains woefully elusive to the American public consciousness.
It’s fitting, then, that the game starts out with so much exposition. This isn’t a Call of Duty title looking to capitalize on history as a mere backdrop to action-heavy gameplay. The Telltale-esque title places players into a series of unfolding events as an Iranian photojournalist recently returned home from Germany. Early in the story, players will take a walk through a protest-crowded street, snapping pictures and listening to their companion expound on the issues facing Iran leading up to the 1979 revolution. Westernization, income inequality, government censorship – the developers are clearly aware of their audience’s unfamiliarity with the setting and do a fantastic job of the setting the stage for the players.
It all comes naturally; your character, after all, has been out of the country for awhile, so it stands to reason that he might need to be caught up on current events. After snapping a photo, players are presented with a quick blurb of information and given the option to learn more, leading them to small snippets of Iran’s history in the game’s journal.
Fortunately, unlike many titles tackling heavy subject matter, 1979 Revolution is at least somewhat able to stand on its own as an entertaining game. It’s informative without being preachy, and engages players with choice and consequence and quick-time event systems Telltale Games or Life is Strange veterans will find immediately familiar.
1979 Revolution is best described as a political thriller, and it isn’t long until your jaunt down exposition lane is interrupted by the proverbial shit hitting the fan. It’s a character driven story, showing Iranian nationals with a variety of different political and religious views reacting as their country is turned upside down. The voice acting is crucially well executed, thanks to a cadre of veteran film actors. Almost everyone involved with the project has a prior work that I’ve seen or am at least familiar with; I recognized the voice of Mozhan Marnò from The Blacklist, House of Cards, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night immediately.
The game is an indie title though, and you can tell that the funds for its actors may have been diverted from other areas of its limited budget. The art assets in particular leave a bit to be desired; it will quickly become apparent that character models and animations are being reused for the game’s extras. In a game like this though, pursuing flawless writing and voice acting for its characters ultimately should trump almost everything else.
1979 Revolution does end a bit abruptly. It’s not as bad as say, The Banner Saga, but I was expecting the narrative to go on for an additional chapter, or maybe for it to show a bit more of the revolution’s aftermath. It’s not a bad ending per se, but it does sort of build and build and then just end in the middle of its own climax.
Overall, the game succeeds in bringing a historically accurate, better understanding of the titular revolution to those who play it. It’s not a deep look and it doesn’t get too bogged down in historical details, instead focusing broadly on the people of Iran as they lived through this formative moment in their nation’s history. 1979 Revolution is worth checking out on that basis alone if you’re interested in experiencing a sample of pre-revolution Iran and how it evolved to become the nation we have today.
If you’re not interested in that, I’d find the the title harder to recommend. This is a game of ideas, and it follows that the title is inextricably linked to the message it wants its players to receive. Standing on its own, its narrative isn’t as satisfying as a Telltale Game and its gameplay doesn’t touch Life is Strange, but if you’re generally interested in experiencing a bit of history, that can make the title shine.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a short game at just over two hours of total playtime, and is available on Steam for a full price of $12. I’ll leave the value judgment up to you.