It’s always a good day when you learn something new — whether it’s a new word in a foreign language or something history-altering that happened in a foreign country for almost 40 years. This is one of my few mantras in life, and something that I had in mind when firing up 1979 Revolution: Black Friday.
I started this game almost entirely ignorant of the history and culture of Iran. There’s the odd bit you pick up in the newspapers and walking past the TV with the news turned on, but that aside, I was almost entirely ignorant. Now, one game and several historical articles later, I know a bit more about something I would likely never have read into otherwise. As I say, it’s always a good day when you learn something new.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday could be described an adventure drama, inspired by historical events — but that doesn’t really do the game justice. It feels more like a playable documentary where you walk around Tehran for about two hours (real time), capturing the revolution on a camera so old that the effort Reza puts into winding the film put a wry smile on my face.
In 1979, Iran was in the grips of a revolution that sought to end the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Shah was backed by the US and tensions ran high — as they do to this day. In your travels through the game, you see the people of Tehran protest this rule, you see the secret police get involved, and you see innocent people die. Throughout this, you have your friend Babak read you some exposition about how Iran will wrest power from the corrupt and become a truly free nation, and you take photos to document the oppression you see in order that history, and the world, will remember.
Unfortunately, this is where the game’s first and strangest dichotomy begins. In order to keep up the feeling of revolution, these sections of the game are quite fast-paced. Several people talk at once and there are occasional quick-time events to keep you on your toes. This would be fine, but when you take a photo of something important, you’re treated to a side-by-side real-word photo next to yours and a wall of text explaining what’s going on — a fantastic touch, if poorly executed. You get these primers with just about everything in the game, whether it’s being offered a cup of tea or photographing graffiti of the Shah. Sadly, pausing the fast-paced game to slowly read (and digest) the information presented to you makes it feel like you’re running through a museum. At that pace, it’s not easy to take things in.
What’s worse is that 1979 Revolution: Black Friday has been ported over from PC. This isn’t a bad thing in of itself, of course, but what I tend to find with these games is that the text doesn’t get resized for the PS4. I do not sit as close my TV as I do my monitor, and having to get up to read about the Iranian custom of holding sugar in your teeth as you sip your tea would be fine if there weren’t 100 other primers for you to read. Compounding this is the sneaking suspicion that this game wasn’t optimised for the PS4 — the transitions feel heavy, as do the pause and share screens. Taking screenshots is so slow that I never once got the line of dialogue I was trying to capture. Checking your trophies when they pop is ill-advised as you will likely miss dialogue in the process. In a game where exposition is everything, this is a real shame.
This presents the question of whether you want to read the primers as they pop up, or do you want to read them all later. In my experience, people very rarely read things later, which means that the historical context behind each of the photos you take will sadly be lost on most players.
Moving away from the history for a moment, let’s consider how effective a vehicle the game 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is as an educational tool. The visuals are, by and large, reminiscent of Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead — as are the game’s dialogue and quick-time events. The graphics, however, do get noticeably jagged from time to time. Case in point: at one point you are asked to photograph a beggar. Sadly, the woman begging was so poorly rendered she would have blended in flawlessly on the PS1. This would have been fine if the beggar wasn’t the literal focal point of one of your photos. Final Fantasy 10’s most recent remaster completely dropped the blitzball with the way the minigame’s crowd is rendered, but you don’t spend the game looking at the crowd — they serve no in-game purpose. If you want people to look at something, and really appreciate it, try not to detract attention by rendering it that poorly.
Sound-wise, there’s not much to talk about 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. People will talk to you in both English and in Farsi, with the latter being translated in the captions in italics — something I have been fond of since Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed 2) taught me to swear in Italian. Interestingly, there are a couple of radio clips you can listen to in either English or Farsi (player’s choice), but weirdly these don’t get captioned. As I don’t speak Farsi, I don’t know whether they say the same things as the old-timey BBC reporter did; I assume not, because that’s not how real-world radio works — especially during propaganda-rich times of political turmoil — which is another way that the game dropped the ball. Aside from that, there are some interesting audio clips and tapes you can play, and some video reels at one point of the game that really caught my eye. The cassettes didn’t add much, but the films were completely different. The videos, it transpires, are real-world footage of Iran in from between the 50s and 70s. It was at this point that my partner looked up at the screen and asked if that’s really what people in Iran wore in the 70s, and went straight to the internet to find out. When an educational game is teaching those who aren’t even playing it, you’ve found a mark of success.
Last but not least, we have the thing that makes the game a game — player input and choice. As you play, you control Reza and how he interacts with the world around him. Do you stay neutral and just take photos, or do you throw the rock your cousin places in your hand? Do you assist the rebels in liberating Iran, or do you keep your photos to yourself? As your interrogator tells you, your camera is no different from a gun or a knife when your photos get someone killed. There are minor differences you get if you take different paths through the game, but ultimately, you aren’t going to change the course of history and 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is based on real photographs of real events with characters based on interviews of real people who lived through the turmoil.
So would I recommend 1979 Revolution: Black Friday? Yes, but with a big asterisk next to it. You need to play the game with an open mind and the willingness to learn something new. If you can do that, you may walk away after a few hours having learned a new and potentially unexpected piece of history. If you’re inquisitive and want to play something unique and different, do consider 1979 Revolution: Black Friday.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
1979 Revolution: Black Friday£13.79
- You're almost guaranteed to learn something new — this game is like a museum you can walk around in
- It offers a unique glance at history
- It’s impressive to the point it’s even mentioned in a UNESCO report on conflict resolution
- It’s not flashy and exciting
- The graphics and sound could use a little work at times
- The game could be better optimised for the PS4