Video games are a great method for telling stories because they let us inhabit someone else’s shoes. Granted, quite often those shoes are the shoes of a gun-toting steroid-infused neck, but there are games that try and do something different.
1979 Revolution Black Friday is one of those. It tells the story of the 1979 Iranian Revolution through the experience of people who were actually there. At times it’s shocking, at times it’s brilliant, and at times it misses the mark. But all told, it’s probably one of the most important games to come out this year because of how well it showcases the power of the interactive medium.
A good chunk of the game is told in flashback. You play a man imprisoned and interrogated after the events of the 1979 revolution, remembering the events that have lead him to his current incarceration.
Right from the get go there are some pretty harrowing moments. You’re captured, tortured, and introduced to characters who aren’t so much coloured in shades of grey as deepest black. Then the game slips back to more hopeful times. You’re a photographer at the start of the revolution, capturing images of peaceful protests. The palette of the game changes from the dank browns of a prison cell to the bright blues of a glorious day.
The gameplay is simple enough. You get to choose different conversation responses, move around and interact with different aspects of the world, and take photos with a simple interface.
The choices that you make can change the outcome of the game. Your interactions and choices, the things you do in the flashbacks and during your interrogation, all contribute to a unique play through defined by your actions. And some of the decisions you need to make are tough ones. Do you remain defiant in the face of torture, or crack and reveal what you know? Do you engage the opposition peacefully or try and pick a fight with them? Nothing is ever as clear cut as it sounds.
Well, nothing in the narrative is. Because the core of the game here is the story, the gameplay itself sometimes feels like an afterthought. Moving around the world isn’t that easy, and the various mini-games and quick time events you have to handle can feel a little tacked on.
But it’s the story that’s going to drive you deeper into the game. It’s brilliantly told, full of interesting twists and turns, and populated by characters you can’t help but feel attached to. The fact that it’s based on true events only makes it more intriguing.
And so you’ll stick with it, even when it gets the gameplay gets a little muddled, because finding out what happens feels important. It almost feels like it’s your duty to see things through to the end, no matter how dark and upsetting they might get. It’s rare that a game can create such feelings, but it’s part of what makes 1979 Revolution so important. This isn’t a game like anything you’ve ever played before, at least in one sense, and while the slightly tired mechanics don’t pop with the same urgency as the narrative, it’s a small price to pay.
This is exactly the sort of experience that video games are best placed to provide, and if you have any interest in the medium as something other than a distraction, then you owe it to yourself and the creators to pick this one up.