1979 Revolution: Black Friday certainly provides a setting that is not commonplace in video games, nor in Western media as a whole. The Iranian Revolution saw activists from a variety of ideological backgrounds find common ground in their dissatisfaction against the Western backed Pahlavi dynasty and rising up. Thousands took to the streets in protest against Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi – students, leftists, nationalists and communists joined forces in effort to overthrow the 25oo year old Persian Monarchy. Initially peaceful, these protests became violent after the tragic events of the Black Friday Massacre, in which the army opened fire on civilians, leaving scores dead in Tehran’s Jaleh Square. It is this event and the tense hours proceeding if that form the historical background of 1979 Revolution, a console port of the 2016 PC original.
The game opens dramatically, as your character – Reza, a photographer returning home from Germany – is being tortured. As the player you have no idea why this is happening, and yet you’re forced to respond to your interrogator’s accusations. This is done in the fashion of Telltale’s graphic adventures, having to choose from a selection of timed responses. The palpable sense of panic and confusion this causes is remarkably effective in communicating the emotions that Reza himself is experiencing.
The interrogation also provides the game’s interesting narrative structure. As Reza is questioned the game provides flashbacks, allowing the player to directly experience his memories and fill in the blanks as to how he came to be in the dreadful circumstances he now finds himself.
First and foremost, Ink Stories should be congratulated in their approach to tackling this sensitive topic. The manner in which the team explore this historical event, the effects of which are still felt today, is honest, respectful and considered. There are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ amongst the character’s you interact with, instead you’ll find a lot of messy greys to consider rather than simplistic black and white. This makes Reza’s choices that much harder to make. There is – as in real life – no correct path and with uncomfortable repercussions occurring because of Reza’s actions, there are moments during the game that I found myself genuinely not knowing how to respond to a situation unfolding before me.
An adventure game like this relies on the effectiveness of its smoke and mirrors. Ultimately, there is no real player choice here, as my behaviour across multiple plays had little to no effect on the overall narrative. The game does several things to cause the smoke to dissipate and the mirror to crack. Often you will be told a character you meet “will not forget that” or they “will remember what you did”, only to never meet that character again. Part of the satisfaction in these games is of how your actions come back to haunt you in a future chapter, but with a short two hour runtime this is not something 1979 Revolution achieves.
It has a blistering pace, sure, but that same rapid storytelling has the undesirable effect of missing the opportunity to further explore interesting narratives, emotional repercussions or character development. The developers are so eager to dash off and get to the ‘next bit’ that they leave a lot of promising dramatic moments spluttering in their dust.
The game is further undermined by some lacklustre graphics that feel out of place on modern hardware. In particular, a beggar and her child are so poorly rendered and animated that I found it astonishing that the developers would purposefully draw my attention to them. I was instantly brought out of the experience with the sheer insanity of being told that this strange wobbly beast in front of me was a woman and her infant.
There’s issues elsewhere, and whilst voice acting is excellent throughout, lip syncing and lack of animation have a tendency of making affecting moments amusing instead. The QTE action sections are also sorely misjudged and having to move an analogue stick upwards to encourage Reza to dramatically leap over a trash can is particularly ridiculous. Meanwhile the surgery elements, such as having to pull glass shards out of faces and knives out of bellies, are preposterous and poorly implemented – quite frankly how anyone survives Reza’s shockingly poor bedside manner is beyond me. Finally, having Reza roll like an action hero to dodge bullets in the game’s closing moments only serves to undermine the hard work to create believable characters elsewhere.
Other than the dialogue, QTEs and basic exploration (just watch out for the plentiful invisible walls), the one remaining game element is photography. In order to tell the world what is happening in Iran, Reza must take photographs. This is achieved by the pressing of L1 in context sensitive locations and then a quick tap of X. This must be timed correctly, as once the two moving lines match up and turn green then the image will be clear and focused.
The photo mechanic is as unobtrusive as it is forgettable, but each photo unlocks a journal entry providing additional detail on the revolution and life in Iran. These are very well written and researched shots of information to the brain, providing detail on everything from music to food. Whilst I found each article incredibly informative, I couldn’t help but wish the information could have been implemented within the game world itself.
As mentioned earlier, the game is wrapped up in a mere two hours. There’s a cliffhanger at the end, which only serves to be disappointing rather than be dramatic. With no sequel intended at the moment of writing, we’ll probably never have any resolution for Reza.
Ink Stories should be congratulated on their tackling of a much misunderstood historical event and doing so with such accuracy, clarity and impartiality. However, with a glut of gameplay issues and a short game length that prevents the opportunity to explore some interesting ideas further, there’s far too much incentive to give 1979 Revolution: Black Friday a miss. This is best viewed as an educational tool, rather than a satisfying interactive experience in its own right.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Also available for Xbox One, Switch, PC, iOS & Android