Why do we play games? To feel the rush of adrenaline during a tense moment? To experience a reality far removed from our own? To be moved by a heartfelt story? Of course, the answer could be any of these reasons and more, or some combination thereof. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday has tense moments, an unorthodox setting, and a moving story, but it adds something else to the mix: education. It is unabashed in its aim to educate the player on the events of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and Iran’s people and culture. For the most part it succeeds, though not without some trouble.
1979 Revolution tells the story of young photojournalist Reza Shirazi, who gets caught up in the 1979 Iranian revolution against the authoritarian dictatorship of the Shah. Though his experience is a lens through which to capture the broader geopolitical upheaval, at its heart the narrative is deeply personal; Reza’s revolutionary story is intertwined with those of several close family members. Ultimately his personal journey will be what keeps the player engaged, because even the most casual observer of history and world events knows the inevitable fate of the revolution. Whoever wrote the characters should be commended for the nuance with which he or she constructed Reza, his friends, and his antagonists as there are very few demarcations of good or evil here.
However, other aspects of the story are a bit more heavy-handed. As one of the game’s principal goals is to educate, there are several segments in an already brief story that amount to little more than exposition dumps. Nearly every major NPC tells Reza that his photographs are vitally important to the revolution, but you as the player never actually see these pictures achieve anything of consequence. This is a symptom of a broader complaint about the game, which is that many of your choices don’t seem to have much of an impact. Obviously the developers are limited by the history of these events, but even on a personal level Reza’s actions seem guided by the mere illusion of choice. There are multiple endings, but without spoiling anything I will say that I was left dissatisfied by the level of divergence they represented.
1979 Revolution will inevitably draw comparisons to the Telltale style of adventure game. From the visuals to the arrangement of dialogue choices, this comparison is apt. However, 1979 Revolution is even lighter on the gameplay mechanics than its more famous inspirations. The bulk of the player’s interaction with the world is through Reza’s camera lens. By taking pictures, players can learn historical facts and tidbits about Iranian culture and the events of the revolution. This is really a game about collecting pieces of information, not solving puzzles or deciding the fate of the world. Other gameplay elements mostly consist of quick time events and dialogue choices. This is not a criticism of 1979 Revolution as a game, but merely a note on how it chose to balance education with gameplay. Oregon Trail does not need to be the only model for educational games.
When the principal source of tension is navigating Reza through chaotic riots and quick time events, poor controls can seriously hamper the player’s enjoyment, and they do so here. Touch controls rarely feel like the best way to interact with any game, but here they feel sluggish, unresponsive, and sometimes outright broken. This problem is partially mitigated by the lack of action, but it also distracts from what could otherwise be quite exciting segments set in a real life revolution.
Musically, the game’s soundtrack did not leave any large impression either positive or negative, though I will admit that I am not a musical connoisseur. I can say that the audio and sound effects did a good job of immersing me in late 1970s Iran; with the hum of crowds and the chaos of revolution. In that respect they had their intended effect.
1979 Revolution is a small game about a momentous event. The Iranian Revolution forever reshaped politics in the Middle East, and in many ways brought the chickens of America’s morally questionable foreign policy home to roost, as the Shah was by most accounts a brutal dictator propped up by the CIA. However, despite its name, this game is not the story of the revolution. It is the story of a young man attempting to navigate extraordinarily difficult times. It is a lesson in history, in culture, in politics. But mostly it is a lesson that you don’t have to travel to Spira or Middle Earth for compelling storytelling; our own world is a big, diverse place full of interesting stories.