With player agency and games, we obviously run the gamut. I have played games where the apparent player agency doesn’t exist (e.g., it turns out that your character is lying regardless of what you choose in the dialog box). There’s the basic agency to continue, as opposed to turning off the computer. There are minor deviations, major deviations, and no set path at all…
But in the case of 1979, we have an unusual combination of Walking Dead like reminders that our choices affect the game, and yet, they don’t seem to appear to, or they do so in a much more limited way than the game implies. So it isn’t the lack of player agency, or the presence of player agency, it’s the promise of a particular kind of player agency that doesn’t ever seem to be realized. This seems to indicate that the designers were interested in both being the ARTEUR and also appearing to be doing something with narrative that is in many ways limited to the game space. I suspect that this is because they were trying to attract people who were interested in computer games, as opposed to people who were interested in Iran.
Still, the end result is that the strange relationship between the player and the designer is a little strained. Again, we are more forgiving of this with new designers or perhaps, people who aren’t really game designers at all. So this is a critique of the game itself and not of a studio or of the designers, I suppose.
The biggest strengths and weaknesses of this game were both narrative related. The mechanics of the game suffered from it being a port — as you mentioned — but this seems secondary to me than the elements of the game that are endemic to it on every platform.
Anyway, on the whole, I personally tend to experience games that have three billion endings because of decision trees are necessarily sloppier and it usually makes me miss authorial control. Theoretically, you could (and esp. in postmodernist stuff, authors have) design an actual novel according to a system design instead of a more traditional narrative design. While games are getting better and better at being literary, I think books are getting worse and worse at being ludic. Just an outside thought.