From comedy arises darkness
The studio that helped bring the point-and-click adventure back into the spotlight with the Runaway trilogy is ready to bring us another tale. However, instead of the comedy that Pendulo Studios has become known for, we’re getting Yesterday: a dark thriller fraught with plot twists, ruminations of death and greed, ancient cults, alchemy, and psychopaths. And, of course, a slight touch of humor. What would a Pendulo game be without at least a little comic relief?
The game’s opening cinematic encapsulates its tone nicely. An unseen person whistles a slow, chilling tune while the player is treated to a slow zoom out from a wall covered with words and symbols drawn with blood, shackles hanging from the ceiling, and a pentagram on the floor. This torture chamber dispels any thoughts that this game would fall in line with Pendulo’s previous titles.
Gimme a plot with a twist
Yesterday puts you in the shoes of John Yesterday, a man who is suffering from amnesia after apparently attempting to commit a suicide. Your employer, Henry White, has helped you get well again and wants to put you back on the investigation that he had you working on. You’re to research a certain religious cult in an effort to discern their relationship to the mysterious killings of homeless people in the city. This leads you on an adventure through Paris, New York, and Scotland.
Without getting into too much detail and spoiling anything, let me say that the game’s story is really great. From the beginning, there are unexpected twists and interesting settings to carry a plot that managed to keep me engaged throughout the play-through. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt bored. A factor of that could be the fact that the game is really short. All told, I finished the game in about five, six hours of play. For me, that didn’t take away from the experience. Everything felt tight and necessary, and there wasn’t anything that felt forced in just to make the game a little longer.
Pendulo has put together a game with the three things most important to the adventure genre: quality writing, an engaging plot, and the ridiculous uses for seemingly useless items. From the very beginning, I found myself loving the game’s descriptive text. During the prologue, as the player character discovers an eerily-posed mannequin in a subway car, the game tells you, “You stop for a moment and think that everything here in this station is cloaked with pain.” That sentence really hit me. It put me in the character’s place and helped me to feel what it would be like to experience what he was experiencing: a dark, decrepit subway station, an abandoned subway car, and this innocuous mannequin that manages to be terrifying. That this tone is conveyed so well, despite the fact that the overall tone shifts gears immediately after, shows a real effort put forth in making the player feel how the character feels, which is something that is particularly important in adventure games where the story is so prominent a factor.
As is to be expected in a point-and-click adventure game, almost every item in the environment is either to be interacted with, or added to the inventory. Yesterday is no exception. Within the first half hour, I found myself in possession of an iron bar, some wiring, a soda can, a box cutter, a screwdriver, an action figure, and a toy keyboard. And I used every one of these items in various ways. Suffice it to say, that Yesterday will make you really think on how to use these items to accomplish your goals, as any great adventure game should.
Helping the gamer along
In case you’re really stuck, Yesterday features two “help” mechanics. One points out all the clickable spots in the environment, in case you can’t find that one thing you need. The other is a hint button, which will provide a small bit of guidance when you get stuck, but will also be shut off once you’ve used it until you’ve tried a few things for yourself. They both proved to be useful, but without making the game feel too easy. Similarly, as you’re trying to figure out what to use with what, or move forward, the developers have found ways to work in hints with a touch of humor. Whether flashbacks of your excessively mean former Scoutmaster remind you that you’re afraid of the dark and will need to do something about that before proceeding into the subway, or trying to use a soda can on a lock tells you “though you still don't know how, this can is going to help you open this padlock,” there are clever ways of helping you that aren’t direct and don’t feel like they dumb down the game.
Short, but good
Let me be blunt: Yesterday is a great game. The experience is short, yes, but very satisfying. There is a cast of well-developed main characters, with entertaining supporting characters. The plot is well done, and not bogged down with extra fluff. As with their prior releases, Yesterday continues Pendulo’s track record for cartoony, but still quality, graphics. One of the only places I can call out a negative are the stiff facial animations. It might have been better to leave the character’s faces static while they were speaking. It would have fit well with the comic book elements that exist within some of the game’s cut-scenes and most dialogue sequences. That minor squabble aside, I can’t recommend Yesterday enough.
Great plot, tight story-telling.