1979 Revolution: Black Friday
Developed By: iNK Stories
Published By: Digerati
Release Date: 8.2.18
1979 Revolution: Black Friday for the Nintendo Switch lives in a world of moral compromise where the truth is seemingly unobtainable. It is a deeply uncomfortable experience that forces players – that forced me – to challenge their beliefs about honor, family, and justice in the face of violent retribution. Drawn from exhaustive research into the Iranian Revolution, iNK Studios brings us a tale of one man’s plight in a struggle for the soul of his nation. It is not pretty, it does not end well, and it does not leave you with the feeling that everything will be all right. It is, however, one of the most compelling, human experiences I have ever had playing a video game.
1979 Revolution takes a lot of inspiration from Telltale Games’ series of adventure titles. The basic gameplay consists of dialogue trees and quick time events that affect the outcome of the story. Most of the time, players are up against a timer while making decisions, but not always. However, the most important decisions are always timed. The quick time events are not especially compelling action pieces from a gameplay standpoint, but narratively they get pretty intense. Towards the end of the game, there is a harrowing shootout with the Iranian army that players must navigate that leads to some big revelations and the player’s ultimate choice which decides the fate of multiple characters. It’s heavy, but we’ll get to that more in the narrative part.
There is also a recurring photography mechanic, as the protagonist is a photojournalist. There are many points at which the player has to focus the camera on the action or the everyday struggle of the Iranian people during the revolution. Taking the pictures unlocks a comparable image taken by a real photographer during the revolution, as well as a short blurb explaining some aspect of the times. For instance, taking pictures of graffiti will unlock an explanation of the significance of certain imagery. At certain points, players will have an open exploration area to wander around discovering more stories and iconography of the revolution.
Overall the gameplay is fairly basic, and pretty dry to boot. But I get the distinct impression that the game was never about innovative game design, but rather about its narrative power, which… wow.
Players adopt the role of Reza Shirazi, a young Iranian photojournalist returning from school in Germany. His memories and involvement in the revolution are framed through a sequence of him being interrogated in the notorious Evin Prison (think Guantanamo Bay or the Bastille) by the possibly more notorious Asadollah Lajevardi, a prosecutor who became Evin’s warden for a time. Over the course of the game, Reza recollects his interactions with family and friends during the revolution, and the decisions he made and actions he took along the way.
The choices Reza is forced to make during the game really highlight the impossibly complex moral ambiguity permeating the revolution. That the hardest of his choices are made against a timer makes them all the more urgent and led me to question my choices time and again. When I finished the game, I asked myself if I had made the right choices at the time. Did I choose to save the wrong person? Did I cover for people who would never have done the same for me? Did anything I chose to do actually help any of the people I was trying to help? The game’s abrupt and sobering ending provides little comfort and fewer answers.
This is where the game’s story derives its power, however. The blunt savagery of the government forces during the revolution and the equal brutality of the regime that replaced it afterwards leave little room for anyone to come out unscathed. Reza’s choice to resist both despite knowing what could await him makes him all the more compelling a hero, and our sympathy for him is what makes it so hard to see him suffer when we have him make a choice that runs afoul of his oppressors.
For all the narrative punch generated just by the weight of its subject matter, the performances of the voice actors throughout the game are what carry the emotional resonance of the game. Each character is infused with enough subtleties to make them fully realized people, and not just aspects of a story. And it’s good that we get strong performances out of them, because the game isn’t all that much to look at. The graphics are outdated-looking even by the standards of 2016, which is when the game originally released. The walking animations are a little stiff and the facial expressions generally approximate the appropriate emotions, but the graphics alone do not convey realistic, nuanced human action. I don’t want to make it sound like the graphics are atrocious, because they aren’t, but the story deserved better.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday has no touch or motion controls. Despite the outdated graphics, however, I’d recommend it for play while docked, as it can be easy to miss certain visual cues on the Switch’s handheld screen. The game also often makes use of a darker color palette, and I find my TV does a better job of displaying games in darker settings.
TL;DR: A riveting, sobering look into one of the 20th century’s most important moments.