REVIEW: 1979 Revolution: Black Friday (2016)

An Adventure Game / Interactive Drama by iNK Stories

Both living in America and being born in the 1980’s means that I have a warped sense of Middle Eastern politics and history simply due to all of the propaganda I’ve been fed every day for almost 40 years. Living through multiple wars, invasions, and “police actions” over there means I’ve seen my fair share of reporters (and editorialists) trying to demonize everyone over there. That is especially relevant in regard to Iran, in which you can’t turn around without tripping over a news report about some guy in a suit calling for their destruction. I’ve seen plenty of things like Facebook posts try to paint pre-revolution Iran as some kind of democratic utopia, ignoring the fact that The Shah brought he country into poverty through greed, and kept it all going through heavy-handed terror by the SAVAK (secret police) who tortured Communists and Islamists. As with any issue, I fully expect that everything Iran related exists in more of a gray area, and we aren’t likely aware of the full story.

That background is why I wanted to play 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, in order to see an account of the revolution of 1979 to overthrow The Shah from a viewpoint of somebody that was actually there, as director Navid Khonsari lived through it. Granted, he was a child in Iran at the time of the revolution, but has gathered first-hand accounts, testimonies, and historical documents/photographs to basically make an interactive documentary of sorts. Even though the game tries to add context to historical events, and largely enlighten westerners on the events, that did not stop Iranian journalists from declaring the game “evil propaganda” which is a shame.

“1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a choice driven, narrative game that brings players into the brooding world of a nation on the verge of collapse. Play as Reza, an aspiring photojournalist, and make life and death decisions as you survive the gritty streets of Iran in the late 1970’s.”

1979 Revolution: Black Friday takes a lot of cues from the more cinematic games from Telltale Games, especially The Wolf Among us, and Walking Dead. For the most part it is an interactive film with dialogue trees that give the illusion of a branching storyline that is largely not actually there. Most decisions really only impact the very end of the game and possibly trophy collection if you are inclined to go for those. It has all of the tropes of a Telltale game including the “XXX Will remember this” notifications at the top when one does a crucial decision, making the player feel the gravity of it.

The story in this game is impressive, and really goes a long way to try to show the moral ambiguity of all of the actors on the “street level” when it comes to the events. You don’t really have a sense of “Good Guys vs Bad Guys”, but rather a huge swirl of gray that corrupts people no matter the intention. For most Communists and Islamists at the time, a religious leader such as revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini was a refreshing change and gave hope to a largely disenfranchised and hopeless populace. They saw The Shah as the one obstacle in their country and didn’t realize that replacing him could usher in something just as bad. The game touches on this a bit as the “purge” of former allies is how Reza comes under the scrutiny of law enforcement.

It was interesting to me to find out that the police interrogator, Asadollah Lajevardi was actually a real person. Known as the infamous “Butcher of Evin,” the man basically turned into a psychopath after enduring torture and humiliation in Evin Prison only to turn around and do the same sort of stuff, if not far worse, when eventually becoming the warden of the very same prison. I am not certain if other characters are based on real historical figures, but seeing that tidbit was pretty interesting. this inclusion definitely shows the educational potential in the game.

According to Wikipedia, big strides were made to include as much historical data as possible to achieve this historical detail we see in the game:

“The team interviewed a group of 40 Iranians who lived in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. The game’s setting and environments are based on photographs taken by real photojournalists during the era, such as Michel Setboun, and graffiti on the streets of Tehran at the time. The team also studied many documentaries, films, journals and documents regarding Iran, and sought feedback from academic, political, religious and cultural advisers. They interviewed over fifty history scholars, including sociologist and political scientist Jack Goldstone, gathered about 1,500 archival photos, and collected many of Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches during their research for the game. The home video footage featured in the game is that of Khonsari’s grandfather, recorded in Super 8 film from the 1950s to 1979. Producer Navid Negahban, who portrayed Hajj Agha in the game, was a high school student at the time of the Revolution. He said that the script “brought back memories”, and he provided information to the writers based on his personal experiences of the time.”

Gameplay in this game is mostly navigating dialogue trees and trying to avoid choosing bad situations. There are a number of segments where Reza gets a chance to explore, usually taking pictures and talking to people. These “hot spots” that allow events are called “stories” and are used to fill in a journal full of detailed information about various aspects of The 1979 Revolution. It very was interesting to hear audio tapes of the very progressive speeches Ayatollah Khomeini made prior to seizing power. Knowing what he eventually did to the people he somewhat used to take the country over, I can both see why people yearned for him to uproot The Shah and feel bad for anyone that devoted their life to the cause only to feel betrayed. The tapes are one of the few “collectables” the player has to look for if one is a completionist.

The photography stuff is mostly a simple way to find “stories” and really doesn’t have much of a game element aside from lining a gauge up to make sure they are in focus. One could probably run through without doing to many of them if there was no concern other than the main story, although some are required to pass the requirements to end a scene. It was cool to see the in-game photographs as they compared to real images of the event taken by photographer Michel Setboun. While the narrative in the game is fictitious, it’s interesting to see some of the events were very real.

Sadly, this game does have a couple of issues, firstly – the graphics aren’t so great. Perhaps due to being developed partly as a mobile game, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday looks rough on the PlayStation 4. It somewhat resembles an older PlayStation 3 game and has occasional visual glitches like having characters phase into each other. That said, keep in mind the “budget” nature of the title – for $12 USD you are getting something basically akin to a feature length interactive film of sorts, so I’m not sweating the game not being a huge AAA title.

Another issue is that the game has a number of “Quick Time Events” (QTEs) that are poorly implemented, and although they work, they sometimes sneak up on you and cause issues. An effort was made to not make them too intrusive, and they aren’t too frequent, but I’d say they are occasionally hard to see, and I failed a few simply because I was too busy watching characters speak or something, not realizing somebody was attacking me or some such. Neither of these issues are huge deal breakers, nor are either broken or unfair.

If you are either a “trophy hunter” or completionist, the game does have a bit of replayability as one can re-do chapters that one feels were not correctly completed or to attain a goal or pick up a missed item. The game is fairly short, just a couple of hours, and has alternate endings so there is a tad bit of room for “playing around” and altering choices to see if outcomes can change. I’m sure the game largely gives the illusion that things are switching out when they aren’t, something Telltale Games did all the time to build tension.

For any fan of adventure games, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a solid title and excels with its narrative despite some minor quibbles. Fans of games like Telltale’s Walking Dead will feel at home as the game borrows some tropes from it. This game is VERY educational and uses primary documents to enrich a narrative that is every bit as good as a film on the subject. Just be prepared for some mediocre visuals and a few janky controls, but for a budget game, I was not disappointed. I feel like I came out of this experience with vastly more information on what exactly happened in Iran in 1979-80, and for that this game is definitely recommended.

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