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1979 Revolution, Railway Empire, and the Importance of Historical Games



Historical media has long been an important art form, with the earliest period drama films debuting over 100 years ago, and video games are no different. Games such as Age of Empires and Assassin’s Creed grant players the opportunity to enter worlds of the past and educate themselves on the events that have shaped the world. In recent years, smaller developers such as iNK Stories and Gaming Minds Studios have realised the importance of historical games, and crafted experiences that allow insight into significant events of yesteryear.

Between 1978 and 1979, a revolution took place in the nation of Iran, resulting in the overthrow of the 2,500 years of continuous monarchy and the replacement with an Islamic republic. The revolution has gone largely untold within western media—an omission that developer iNK Stories aimed to solve with its debut title 1979 Revolution: Black Friday in 2016.

The game follows aspiring photojournalist Reza Shirazi after he returns to Iran during the revolution, and the player is forced to decide whether they wish to act pacifistic or hostile towards soldiers and police. By taking the events of the Iranian Revolution and placing them in an interactive setting, the game puts the player in the shoes of a participant of the events, making them feel the raw emotion and pressure of the revolution in a manner that no other medium can achieve. While passive media—books, television, and film—allow audiences an insight into the mind of others during historical events, games transfer the player into the events themselves. The player is Reza Shirazi—an active participant, not a bystander—and thus the revolution becomes much more impactful and palpable.

1979 Revolution Black Friday gameplay

The 19th century period known as the Wild West—seemingly a common setting for video games—was a chapter in history led by pioneers of technological and governmental advancement. A significant part of this development was the introduction of the transcontinental railroad, a 1,900-mile (3,000 km) continuous railroad connecting several western American states, from Omaha, Nebraska to the Oakland Long Wharf on San Francisco Bay. The creation of the railroad would have been impossible without several factors, least of all the finance from the state and federal governments and the hard workers who set the track for six years. However, few realise the importance of those who had envisioned and developed the railroad on paper—an omission that Gaming Mind Studios’s Railway Empire pays due credit toward.

Railway Empire is a tycoon simulation game similar to many others: the player builds stations within cities, lays down track to connect the stations, selects and upgrades trains to fit the scenario, and chooses freight suitable for the destination. By using these common gameplay tropes within a historical setting, however, the developer grants an insight into the importance of such seemingly menial tasks.

In the game’s second chapter, for example, the player is tasked with reaching a population of 100,000 in the city of Baltimore. To do so, the demands of the city must be met, meaning the player should select suitable freight to transport to Baltimore to improve population growth; building appealing structures such as museums also increases growth, as does improving the industries of neighbouring cities, thereby increasing the population and positively impacting the growth of Baltimore. Such a task demonstrates the importance and complexity of a city building role, as it would in other tycoon games; however, adding this role to a historical context grants it more of an impact, as the player feels the stress of achieving their goals and realising that the same stress was once felt—on a far more substantial and far less virtual level—by those who designed and implemented the railroads in the 19th century.

Railway Empire gameplay

In addition to these lessons of morale and emotion, Railway Empire is also teeming with educational information sure to satisfy any history or rail enthusiast. The game’s dates and locations are largely accurate—for example, the First Transcontinental Railroad began in Omaha in 1864, as it does in the game’s first chapter—while the locomotives are based on real machines of the time, such as the “Grasshopper” and the John Bull.

Another significant title set during the American frontier—in this case, during the death of the Old West in the early 1910s—is Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption. The game’s settings—from small town Armadillo, to government-run Blackwater, to rebellious Mexican city Nuevo Paraíso—are entirely fictional, only based on representations of iconic American frontier locations, and the game’s characters are all original creations with no historical figures present. Where Red Dead Redemption falters in its historical accuracy, however, it compensates with historical atmosphere.

The game opens in the aforementioned city of Blackwater—not a Wild West town full of outlaws, cowboys, and gunfighting, but a civilised city advanced with cars, newspapers, and smoke. Protagonist John Marston, however, is not a civilised man but a former outlaw. Stuck in the past, in a world of crime and cowboys, Marston is lost in the modernising world—a feeling imitated by many stuck in a similar position in the early 1900s. As discussed earlier this week, Red Dead Redemption is a masterclass in game design, and the game’s opening demonstrates why it is also a masterclass in historical atmosphere—a notion that historian Holly Nielsen discussed in far more detail for The Telegraph.

Video games may be the most suitable and significant medium through which historical information is conveyed. Through games such as 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, the impact and emotion of events of the past become far more prominent and palpable. Tycoon and simulation games allow for deeper character studies into the lives of those present during historical periods, as in the case of Railway Empire. Games that forego historical accuracy can still achieve an effective atmosphere, though, transporting the player to a world representing one of history without the same locations and characters, such as with Red Dead Redemption. Historical games are important and, with the impending release of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 tomorrow, are clearly not going anywhere any time soon.

Red Dead Redemption Mexico

For more on historical video games, stay tuned to OnlySP’s Red Dead Redemption Week, and be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over four years with no way of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption, Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.


Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in May 2019




May offers no respite from the big, bold games that have released so far in 2019, bringing with it a host of games almost certain to appeal to gamers of every stripe.

Close to the Sun

Release Date: May 2, 2019
Platforms: PC, consoles later in the year

May’s first major release may also be its most intriguing. Close to the Sun has regularly attracted comparisons to BioShock for its art style and premise, though the relationship between the two titles is, at best, spiritual.

Players take the role of journalist Rose Archer as she steps aboard Nikola Tesla’s ship, the Helios in 1897. Like Andrew Ryan before him (or after him, depending on perspective), Tesla has created a microcosm in which scientific freedom is unrestricted, with disastrous outcomes. Rose’s first impression is of a quarantine sign at the entrance to a still, dead ship, but she presses on regardless in search of her lost sister.

With Close to the Sun, developer Storm in a Teacup aims to provide an intense horror experience. The Helios holds none of BioShock’s shotguns or Plasmids. Instead, players have no means to defend themselves, with gameplay focusing on hiding from and escaping the threats on board.

Check out OnlySP’s final review of the game here.


Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For anyone to whom the slow, meditative approach does not appeal, Bethesda is busting out the big guns with the long-awaited, little-expected sequel, RAGE 2.

This time around, id Software has tapped Just Cause and Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios for assistance in developing an open-world game. The result, if the trailers are any indication, is a breakneck, neon-fuelled experience that focuses on insanity and ramps up all the unique aspects of the earlier game.

One focal point of development has been ensuring the interconnectedness of the game’s structure, and the teams have promised a greater focus on narrative this time around. Perhaps in keeping with that, RAGE 2 is being distanced from its predecessor, taking place 30 years later with a new protagonist and a whole new story, though some callbacks will be present.

Although id’s legendary first-person gunplay is a driving force throughout the game, it will be supplemented by some light RPG elements, robust vehicular combat, and post launch challenges and support (though the developers deny that RAGE 2 is designed with a games-as-a-service model in mind).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Out on the same day as RAGE 2 is the vastly different A Plague Tale: Innocence. A historical adventure, the game challenges players with overcoming obstacles with brains rather than brawn.

Players become Amicia, an orphan girl struggling to survive in a plague-infested medieval France while also keeping her younger brother safe. With the landscape rife with rats and members of The Inquisition, one of the core tenets of gameplay is reportedly the need to use these threats against each other. As such, though Amicia has a sling to use, the gameplay is designed more as survival puzzles than combat ones.

Developer Asobo Studio is not a household name, though it has a lengthy history of adaptations and support on major titles, including Quantum Break and The Crew 2. Furthermore, even though A Plague Tale is yet to release, publisher Focus Home Interactive has displayed remarkable confidence in the project by extending its partnership with Asobo.

Honourable Mentions

Although RAGE 2 is the incontestable action-blockbuster of the month, gamers in search of another kind of frenetic may want to wait until May 21, when Curve Digital drops American Fugitive, which has a more than passing resemblance to the earliest Grand Theft Auto games. Alternatively, PlayStation VR owners may want to look into Blood and Truth come May 28.

Sega also shines this month, dropping Team Sonic Racing on May 21 and Total War: Three Kingdoms two days later.

Anyone looking for an RPG has indie’s answer to The Outer Worlds, Within the Cosmos, to look out for on May 30, while those looking for slower stories get the latest episode of Life is Strange 2 on May 9, Observation on May 21, and the fjord-noir Draugen at a yet unspecified date.

Have we forgotten anything that you’re excited for? Let us know down below or on our Discord server.

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