Forty years ago, revolution swept Iran. The western backed autocrat, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was ousted from power by a popular coalition of forces and an Islamic republic, led by Allah’s apparent representative Ruhollah Khomeini, was established. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday tells the story of Black Friday, a turning point of the revolution, through the lens of fictional photo journalist Reza Shirazi. It’s less a traditional video game and more a kind of edutainment interactive historical drama, with developer iNK Stories borrowing heavily from the Telltale Games formula to immerse the player in the chaos of revolution.
Set across three acts, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday tells the story of teenage photographer Reza Shirazi. Arrested by the Revolutionary Guard in 1980, and placed under torture and interrogation, Shirazi recollects his actions on Black Friday, 1978 and its aftermath. The first act focuses on taking photographs of the demonstrations of Black Friday, where Shirazi learns of the crimes of the Shah. The second act sees Shirazi inducted into the inner circle of the movement and investigate elements of sedition. The final act sees Shirazi grapple with the conflicting loyalties of his friends and family as protests continue. There’s two endings to the game depending on your actions in the last act, with earlier decisions altering cutscenes along the way.
It’s all quite confusing and overwhelming. But I think this is intentional. iNK Studios wanted to educate people about the Iranian revolution through player immersion. Although Iranian, Reza Shirazi had a sheltered upbringing and spent the previous years abroad in Germany, and as a photographer, he has a reason to stop and gawk at things the way the intended audience might. I came into 1979 Revolution: Black Friday knowing nothing about the Iranian revolution. Halfway through the game I took a crash course to try and get my bearings but that didn’t remove the sense of discovery and wonder the experience imparted on me. It’s about a two hour experience if you rush through but if you indulge yourself in all the historical materials you can get four or five hours out of it.
There’s not much to the gameplay mechanics. Each scene has a number of dialogue or action options, none of which make significant difference to the outcome. You certainly can’t sway the revolution in favour of the communist faction like I tried to do. There are also quick-time event scenes which are pretty straightforward but do have game over screens if you fail at critical points. You’ll also take photos and collect revolutionary artefacts which unlocks historical material, such as speeches by Khomeini, for later browsing. That all said, even this sparse gameplay is probably more than what was found in the recently remastered The Cat and the Coup, which detailed the 1953 political turmoil in Iran.
The shortcomings of 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, are seemingly intentional. The lack of player agency, despite the choices, reinforces the message that revolutions are powered by the masses, not by individual actors. The shallow gameplay is there to broaden the potential audience of the game as much as possible, to be as accessible as possible. The development scope of this title was to allow us to experience the Iranian revolution, to inform and engage us, and that’s what is successfully delivers. It could always be more polished, more open ended, but iNK Studios delivered on their mission and minimised distractions doing it.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday is available on all modern platforms, this review was played on Switch. At time of publishing it is on sale at most digital storefronts. It is banned in Iran.