I first ran into 1979 Revolution: Black Friday in 2011, when former Rockstar developer Navid Khonsari announced his desire to make a game based on the Islamic Revolution in Iran that overthrew the Shah and installed a theocratic republic. A Kickstarter campaign a couple of years later fell short of its goal, but work continued, and earlier this month the game finally made its debut on Steam.
1979 Revolution is played from the perspective of Reza Shirazi, a photographer who returns to Iran after studying in Europe just as the revolution is catching fire. It's a very linear experience—such is the way of historical games—and plays much like a Telltale adventure, with many timed dialogs and a few quicktime events to get through. And it is not, to be clear, as hair-raising or action-packed as the trailer may make it seem: Most of the game is simple exploration, learning about Reza, his family, and his country by clicking on hot-spots and taking photos of pre-determined subjects. But it is unquestionably intense. The conversation response timer moves with an unforgiving quickness, and while the torture scenes that punctuate the pre-revolution narrative aren't graphic by current videogame standards, they are harrowing.
1979 Revolution is an ambitious game, and that sometimes shines a harsh light on its indie underpinnings. The re-use of assets is especially pronounced in large crowd scenes, of which there are many, and the visual quality of NPCs struck me as uneven. The “gamification” of certain elements, like clicking on a man's chest to wipe the blood off of him so you can better see his wound, feels very strange at times too, rather like the infamous “Press F to pay respects” sequence in Advanced Warfare. But the motion-captured animation is good (not really surprising, since that's what Khonsari has been primarily responsible for in his previous work) and the voice acting, provided by a cast more recognizable by face than by name, is spot-on.
It lacks the polish of a Telltale game, but not the power: 1979 Revolution is based on “first-hand testimonies of freedom fighters, witnesses, and casualties of the revolution,” and much of the in-game content is interspersed with real-world photos, video clips, and audio. Unsurprisingly, Khonsari said it's been banned in Iran, where authorities have criticized it for numerous inaccuracies; this Google translation of a VGPosmortem.ir review is rough, but the message is pretty clear.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday is available on Steam for $12/£9. More may be coming: The developers said on Twitter a few days ago that it “isn't episodic, but the characters have more stories to tell.” Find out more at 1979revolutiongame.com.