by Sorin Annuar
reviewed on PC
A cursory glance at 1979 Revolution: Black Friday may have the average person either assuming that it’s a new adventure game from Telltale or somebody trying to emulate Telltale’s formula. From the four way conversation option menu (in which silence is always a valid option), the binary and obvious branching two option menu and the ‘he/she will remember that’ notification that pops up in the corner, this has all the trademarks of a Telltale game.
Except it isn’t; in the same way that 80s and 90s industry giant Sierra On-Line pioneered the graphic adventure game genre and introduced a parser-based game engine which other companies then emulated, Telltale has taken point in the adventure game genre by introducing a far more accessible, streamlined experience focusing more on storytelling over particularly taxing gameplay mechanics. And unlike Telltale’s efforts, 1979 Revolution focuses instead on real-life events. Originally incepted in 2013 but failing to meet its initial Kickstarter goal, the game was nevertheless worked on until it was finally funded; this has obviously been a labour of love for its developer, whose background includes work for Rockstar Games.
Serious subject matter
Set, as the name implies, in 1979 during the events of the Iranian Revolution, the game focuses on Reza Shirazi, who returns to his home country and works as a photojournalist against the backdrop of the events leading to the Pahlavi dynasty being overthrown. Over the course of the story, Shirazi’s actions and choices will see him getting involved with the revolution. This may be a blank area of history for many, and thus playing something that actually has a historical context as opposed to Telltale’s focus on licensed entertainment is actually quite refreshing. This game deals seriously with a serious topic, with serious characters. The title itself refers to an event that took place on the 8th of September 1978 where protestors were fired on in a public square, killing many.
Characters are well-acted and believable, and the dialogue is well written. There is little in the way of levity, as mentioned above, but this game has a clear message it wants to deliver in focusing on a time of civil unrest and upheaval. One odd omission in a game that is basing a lot of its mechanics on that of another company’s is the lack of controller support, which whilst not a deal breaker does take away the pass the pad aspect of being able to play through the story with a friend whilst taking turns behind the wheel.
Since reviews have been rolling in for 1979 Revolution, its developer has come under fire from the Iranian government, and game lead, Iranian-born Navid Khonsari, has been accused of being a spy and creating anti-regime propaganda. These accusations mean that Khonsari is now unable to return to Iran, where he grew up during the revolution. It is almost as if the tone and turmoil in the narrative of the game have carried through past the fourth wall and still has an ongoing effect. This is not to be glib regarding the situation, but rather display admiration for somebody doing something they believe in.
Deserving of praise
Criticising a game because it lifts mechanics from an industry forerunner is sometimes like criticising a book because it has the same binding and page numbering as an older book you liked. Critically so with adventure games where the core narrative is the real reason you should be playing it. And in that sense 1979 Revolution succeeds admirably; it weaves a compelling narrative, provides the player with grey choices throughout and most importantly shines a spotlight on an area of history hitherto unexplored in the context of videogame narrative. This game deserves the praise it’s been getting and is absolutely worth your time if you like adventure games or historical storytelling. iNK Stories Studio has raised the bar in real-world based narrative, and it will be exciting to see what they deliver next.
Gripping original story, well acted and written
Comes with all the limitations that Telltale had in its own game engine