Video games rarely teach us much real-world history. Yes, God of War and Assassin’s Creed have showed us rough amalgamations of previous civilizations through the tip of bloodied blades, but those are half-exceptions to the near-industry wide rule. Few games plant themselves as deeply into history as 1979 REVOLUTION: BLACK FRIDAY. 1979 Revolution is an adventure game with its own fictional narrative but it’s set against the backdrop of the 1979 Iranian Revolution that uprooted the country and forever changed it. While some of its rough edges detract from the overall experience, the way that it fuses its educational material into its nuanced story makes it a fresh and informative take on the genre.
1979 Revolution is indebted to Telltale’s suite of adventure games. Players progress through the plot by choosing their desired dialogue option or action and bumbling through the clumsy quick time events. In that sense, it’s exactly what you’d think it would be and works like it does in most other games in the genre although choices are usually devoid of tangible consequences.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday Review: Educational and Recreational
However, it breaks from the mold of its influences by sneaking in a wealth of educational material in multiple effective ways. The rich, Iranian culture that fills the streets and dialogue gives a good sampling of its immediate context in the game but are teasers for the game’s more detailed explanations in the pause menu. Its summaries are succinct yet detailed descriptions that reward your curiosity with a look into a culture and time period most of its audience might not be familiar with.
The game cleverly serves its history lessons through the lens of its protagonist, Reza. Literally. He’s a photographer, which is a good excuse to get you to study the backdrop of the revolution as a bystander that just wants to capture it for the world to see. And that world includes you, the player. An icon pops up when something of interest is in range and it’ll often juxtapose your in-game picture with its real life counterpart and a description, lending more authenticity to its locations. By making Reza a photographer, it gives you a reason to stop and study the environment in a way that intelligently facilitates learning.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday Review: A Piece of the Middle East
But equally as important as the environment are the characters within it. Let’s be honest here: we don’t see a lot of Middle Eastern people in games (or media in general, for that matter) and if we do, we’re usually shooting at its nameless extremists. It’s a part of the world where pop culture seems obsessed with the turmoil and tragedy of the region over the actual people who have to live through that struggle most of us only see on television. And while this game focuses on one of the most famous instances of that turmoil, it remembers to populate itself with humans who have personalities, emotions, and passionately differing points of views that are wonderfully realized through the game’s great performances.
And that’s a hard thing to do, especially given the nature of the revolution. It was a turning point for Iran and its multitude of factions wanted to take the country in wildly different directions. The game does a great job of showing you, and sometimes letting you pick between, those sides while not ignoring the pros and cons inherent to each. The Mujahideen, Communists, leftists, nationalists, clerics, and more are all personified within certain characters, which naturally sets the stage for some interesting drama as those conflicting ideals clash at almost every turn.
It’s not just a mere retelling of the events, but uses a fictionalized narrative with those disparate interpersonal viewpoints to convey the commotion regarding the revolution. Telling a fictionalized tale fueled by facts is a novel storytelling device that not enough games utilize.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday Review: Persian Aversions
Ultimately, its ingenuity doesn’t completely mask its flaws. The story, for all of its strengths, feels like it was rapidly cut down in ways that bring down the pacing and lead to some unanswered questions. Many scenes don’t have transitions, making it hard to discern how both chapters are connected. One of the character reveals is even someone you’ve never seen before, which temporarily deflates the moment.
The final few chapters are especially emblematic of these issues as the game rushes to its finale with some of the most anticlimactic endings I’ve seen in years. By hurriedly zooming through the final act, it robs its characters of more growth and the fitting, proper send-offs they deserve. All of this screams of a game with wilder ambitions that was severely pruned before release. It feels like an episodic game that’s missing many of the scenes that would have provided more of the necessary character development and closure. None of this is made better by its two-hour runtime and, while tight pacing is good, it’s not as beneficial when it’s the result of missing context and a manic sprint to the finish line.
The visuals look as rushed as the narrative feels. It is a lovely recreation of Tehran circa 1979, with its crowded streets and historically accurate landmarks, but it all often looks and moves like a late generation PS2 game. Character models are incredibly flat and they often move as though they have severe arthritis in all of their joints (although the performances do their best to undo some of its technical ineptitude). Background characters exacerbate these issues as they are often embarrassingly low-res and repeat the same stiff animations, if they even move at all. The depiction of the culture and surrounding uprising isn’t destroyed by these flaws; it’s just hampered by them.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a great first entry by developer iNK Stories. Technical hiccups and a few narrative shortcomings hold it back a bit but its honest look at the Iranian Revolution is unflinching, educational, engrossing, and hopefully inspirational for those trying to make games capable of enabling cultural empathy in its players. 1979 Revolution wears that culture proudly and finally gives the region a nuanced take in a format that it’s not typically served in. By pushing for change in a slightly messy way, the game fittingly embodies its revolutionary namesake in a way that will hopefully encourage others to follow suit and improve upon what it has started.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.