Many games have placed you in various historical moments through time, from storming the beaches of Normandy to scaling the rooftops of 15th century Italy in Assassin’s Creed. However, they tend not to teach you about what you’re playing – it’s only the latest Assassin’s Creed game (Origins) that gave players an education mode so they could learn about the world they were exploring.
1979 Revolution is different. Not only does it explore the events of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an event yet to be depicted in video games as far as I know, but it does so while teaching you about Iranian culture and what led to that fateful Black Friday.
The game begins with Reza, a photographer who is ambushed by police and spends the game recounting his tales to his interrogator. This is what serves as the framework as the game bounces back in time to show the events that led up to this moment. And like any Telltale-like adventure game, your dialogue choices affect the story.
Choices largely come in two camps, whether you are all in favour of peaceful protest or whether using more force is required. And like having an angel and devil on each shoulder, there are two characters with different ideologies that will be pushing you towards joining them.
With the primary focus being the story, the gameplay and graphics do suffer. There are QTE events that can be failed resulting in a game over and other than that the only other mechanic is the photography. At various scenes in the game, you’ll be asked to take a photograph and it’s just a matter of snapping the photo when the bar that moves across the screen hits the center. Not all photos are required, but it is advised to hunt them out because this is one of the key ways it teaches you about Iranian history.
An early part of the game has Reza walking through a protest and one of the first photos you can take is of a protestor covered in pictures of other people. Snapping a photo reveals the history of these people called ‘the walking dead’, adorning themselves with pictures of people who lost their lives because of the current regime. Then there are American cars on the sidewalk that when photographed reveal some text on the current relations between the US and Iran. There are also tapes that can be found that contain actual speeches from the revolution. Clearly a lot of devotion has been spent making this historically accurate.
Unsurprising really when coming from an Iranian developer who was a child during the time that the revolution began. The developer in question, Navid Khonsari, even felt afraid to re-enter Iran due to the game’s nature and after it was called “propaganda” by an Iranian journalist. The game’s development seems just as fascinating as the game itself.
Helping to get you involved in the story are also the voice actors who are quite brilliant. Mainly speaking in English, they often dip into various Iranian words and despite speaking none of the latter, the tone of the performance is enough to get across the feeling and emotions on display. None more so than during the game’s prison interrogation scenes where Reza (Bobby Naderi) and his interrogator (Asadollah Lajevardi) pull off a masterclass in voice acting.
Aside from the gameplay, where it also falls apart slightly is graphically. Clearly, this was secondary to telling the story because while on the surface it doesn’t look great, it also has a few moments that just take you out of the experience. For instance, there are quite a few moments where you are followed by one of your friends. They don’t just get in your way at times, they also have a habit of walking through solid objects. While the game tries to explain the political ramifications of what’s happening, seeing your friend walk through a car and just stand there is quite distracting.
But then you don’t really come to this game for its mechanics or graphics. It almost seems weird calling this a ‘game’, because it’s less so than even those that get mocked by the ‘walking sims aren’t real games’ people. Like walking around a choose your own adventure book or scanning the books in a library, this is an educational experience more than a traditional gaming one. Whether that is for you or not is dependent on what you want to gain. If you’re interesting in learning something new then I would heartily recommend giving 1979 Revolution a try. You might just be surprised.