Video games can be many things. They can entertain and distract from the stresses of modern life, but they can also inform. Prior to playing 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, I have to admit that the Iranian Revolution of the seventies was a bit of a gap in my knowledge. Though it doesn’t paint the full picture, it does the job it was intended to do: to illuminate a dark period in the country’s history.
You play as Rezan, a photographer returning from Germany to his homeland. Iran is full of civil unrest, many of its people unhappy with the dictatorship currently holding them down. You arrive in the midst of things and quickly become involved with the opposition to the Shah’s rule.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday formats itself as a sequence of flashbacks with Rezan currently under interrogation and relaying his story to his tormentor. Anyone who’s ever played a Telltale game will know what to expect from 1979 as their output has clearly served as an inspiration for iNK Stories. Favouring storytelling over gameplay, 1979’s brightest spark is its narrative, which features twists and turns aplenty but also, most importantly, complete sincerity.
Lines are blurred throughout 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, even if it does shy away from allowing you total freedom with how things unspool. Truthfully, your choices don’t have the weight or gravitas of something like The Walking Dead; the die has already been cast for many of its cast. While 1979 lacking a personal touch may disappoint some, the storyline is gripping enough to keep you invested.
It helps that the voice acting is so passionately delivered; there’s not one performance in 1979 that feels out of place. It’s clearly a labour of love for iNK Stories, evidenced by the real photographs dotted around its world, as well as home videos being fully watchable in-game. 1979 is a worthwhile glimpse into a culture that many may not be be familiar with, helped by a dense codex that the player can flick through to learn more about Iran and its strife.
The brunt of your time with 1979 will be spent exploring some restrictive environments and taking photographs, as well as engaging in conversations. As mentioned, these don’t particularly go anywhere — having played through some sections once or twice, different answers don’t always have different reactions, some respondents just completely blanking what you’ve said and moving on to their next lines.
This gives 1979 the feeling of a Telltale-lite, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Telltale have proven themselves to be the masters of their niche but with little competition to test themselves against. In this regard, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday should be viewed as baby steps for a more expansive follow-up from iNK Stories, one that promotes freedom of choice (and all the guilt that comes with it) over a linear path with tiny deviations.
The straightforward nature of the game’s narrative probably has a lot to do with reaching its end goal: Black Friday itself. The aim from iNK Stories seems to be to not allow the player to distort the reality of the dark day, but to instead live through it, to understand the lives lost. There’s a palpable tension from the off with 1979, one that hangs over all of the relationships you cultivate like a dark shadow.
Though its sharp writing and heart may make it easy to become enamoured by 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, there are some shortfalls that can take you out of the experience. While boasting a muted and mostly eye-catching aesthetic, the character models always look like they’re wearing someone else’s skin. They’re eerily robotic and at odds with what is overall the slick presentation of the game.
The introduction of quick-time events also feels unusual, presumably jammed in by the developers worried that the game wouldn’t be interactive enough without them. It’s a strange choice if so: there’s more than enough depth and emotion to 1979 to warrant it just being a straight narrative experience. Being asked to pull pieces of glass out of a glass by simply holding up on the left stick feels like interactivity for the sake of interactivity.
There’s also the fact that 1979’s narrative feels incomplete, its story finishing abruptly while hinting at a follow-up that’s yet to arrive. It’s been two years since it landed on PC and with iNK Stories now moving on to other projects and no sign of a new episode or sequel in sight, you should be aware that you’re only getting a piece of the possible puzzle with this PS4 port, which is also coming to Xbox One and Switch.
Despite considerable drawbacks, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a game that should be played. Regardless of the politics at its core, 1979 is the story of the power of people, the change that can be sowed when we rise up and try to make a change. While it may lack the finesse or conviction of its most obvious inspirations, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday’s solid core and powerful moments are worth experiencing.
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Certainly rough around the edges, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday still boasts enough heart to make it worth playing by any Telltale fans.
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