Yesterday. More than a just a very strange surname, Yesterday is a point-and-click adventure by Madrid-based developers Pendulo Studios. Sneaking under the radar of many a gamer, even the adventure nuts among us, Pendulo bills their latest head-scratcher a “thrilling mystery”, and that it is “presenting a unique, dark and sombre style”. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon-y graphics and caricatured models, they really mean it. Yesterday is about as sombre as an adventure game can get. Murder, torture, betrayal, the supernatural, even Satan himself make up major parts of the plot, helping make Yesterday into one excellent, albeit completely unique, point-and-click.
In this surprisingly short title, we have here enough plot twists for every modern shooter that sees release this November. Even telling you the name of the player character would somewhat give a twist away, let alone the name of the antagonist. Prepare to have your brain dragged over hot coals numerous times as you are repeatedly mindfucked by characters who are exactly what you weren’t expecting them to be. Even if you think you’ve sussed out a twist, I can assure you that you haven’t. You’ll be on your toes for the 6 or so hours it’ll take you to see the credits. Am I having a whinge that Yesterday only lasts 6 hours? No. Quality over quantity, right? Hell, Mirror’s Edge was awesome too. But just as your brain starts to click into gear as you work out exactly what’s going on, putting the complex, weaving plot together piece by piece, you’ll find yourself at the final scene, wondering where all the game went. That’s okay, though – Yesterday is more than saved by the sheer number of times you’ll be left with your jaw hanging open. This one scene… well, when you get to it, you’ll know. Your chin will be in your lap, and you’ll struggle to lift a hand away from the mouse to close it.
Following a truly haunting opening cinematic, you are set to explore an old, collapsed train station in New York City. You volunteer for the Don Quixote something something – I can’t remember their full name, but they’re an NGO aiming to shelter and feed the homeless of the city. In the wake of a number of violent murders targeting homeless people – to be specific, gory scenes in which the victims are burned alive – the charity becomes more desperate in their quest to shelter the homeless before they are killed. As you can imagine, the exploration of the train station doesn’t end well, and things turn very bad for the leading man, very quickly. It is at this point where you are forced to solve three chess puzzles to prove your intelligence – yeah, chess puzzles. You’re presented with a chess board and asked to find, for example, checkmate for White in one move. Initially this felt horribly out of place, however I must admit that as the story progressed, one of the puzzles mentioned in this prologue is so elegantly referenced that even chess, the most outlandish, off-putting inclusion when one is held at gunpoint, felt perfectly natural.
And yeah, the shit hits the fan rather quickly. For once, amnesia as a plot device doesn’t feel tacked on, but actually has a rather neat reason for being such an important feature. Everything that might seem gimmicky in any other game is worked in with such finesse from the developers that suspension of disbelief comes, for the better part, without even thinking about it. Even in the totally-necessary cheese-tastic pillow talk scene, with the girl you only just met, no less, nothing ever seems so ridiculous that you’ll be left questioning the plot. Even about half an hour later, when your character professes his love to the aforementioned girl, rather than grimace at the cheese-factor, you’ll likely smile to yourself and just carry on; like I said earlier, this kind of pure, intricate control over the plot is completely thanks to the talent and experience with adventure games on the developer’s part. With any other studio behind the wheel, Yesterday could have easily dived, head first, into that sort of adventure game that relies on campiness to be successful, even with the harrowing plot. Campy adventure games can be excellent, I admit – but if this was, it might have very well been ruined. Yesterday toed that line so closely, with its cartoon-y graphics and surreal “let me train you, young Padawan, at odds-and-evens” scenes, however it always knew exactly when to draw its foot back and, for that, I applaud it.
Conversation is nothing more than the faces of the two conversing characters staring straight out of the screen, with a check-box list of question-and-answer queries. Sure, it’s not the deepest mechanism in the world, but often the inherent intimacy with having the characters staring at you from behind the screen helps in getting their emotions across; a mechanism that is definitely assisted by the over-the-top character design. Voice acting is all professionally recorded – not once was I tempted to skip dialogue with a click of the left mouse button, which is always a good sign. In fact, the entire game has a very polished feel to it, in every aspect. Music has a strange, evil-carnival sort of vibe to it, perfectly encapsulating the eerie feeling that nothing is quite right. That same feeling also comes across during the comic book-style cutscenes – again, despite the possibility for campiness, the sheer skill of the developers pulls it away from this territory. Every now and again it’ll start to feel like most of what you’re playing is a flashback, and I’m sure there was even a flashback within a flashback at one point (maybe not, but it sure felt like it), but it doesn’t get overwhelming or delve into pure absurdity.
Character animations are smooth, environments are pretty, yadda, yadda…he fact remains that Yesterday is a point-and-click adventure. No other genre could have been equally effective in presenting such a rich and complex plot. But yeah, like any other point-and-click, you collect items from various parts of the scene, combine these items, and use them on other parts of the scene in order to solve puzzles and progress. And like any good point-and-click, what you’re expected to do with the items on hand nearly always requires liberal usage of lateral thinking, and yet can always be condensed down into pure logic, such as using a lever or breaking a padlock with a wedge. Pendulo’s experience in the genre is apparent in leaps and bounds, as little innovations help to turn what could quite easily be a frustrating experience into an enjoyable one. No longer will you watch your character trudge across the screen like he’s walking on custard – in Yesterday, he’ll vanish and reappear next to whatever you’ve clicked on. A hint system is present, but rather than simply telling you what to do next, it’ll point you in the right direction in a round-about sort of way. Even better is that it forces you to give it a go yourself before you can ask for a hint, so don’t go thinking that you’ll be able to complete the game simply by repeatedly clicking on the light bulb in the bottom left corner.
The four different endings were my main concern about Yesterday – namely, in the fact that there are multiple endings. I Don’t get me wrong, I love multiple endings, but upon starting the story I had no idea that I’d be given more than one ending. It was only after doing some research after completing it that I discovered this option (well, sort of, as the final choice gives it away quite a bit). My problem is, though, that the game doesn’t autosave before you make this choice. With it being a rather short game and all, I knocked over Yesterday in one sitting, without even thinking about saving. The thought didn’t even cross my mind. So you can imagine my frustration when, after doing my inevitable sigh-and-lean-back that comes with completing a satisfying game, I tried to experience the other endings. The lack of an autosave feature resulted in that being impossible. Nope, I was greeted with the opening cinematic, rather than the final choice of the game. A shame, I thought, as I headed to YouTube to watch the endings that I didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing.
Yesterday is a shining light amongst point-and-click adventures. In a genre in which the majority of titles rely on camp humour and one-liners, this is a game brave enough to stick its neck on the line and refute that stereotype. Sure, there’s plenty of dick jokes, innuendo, and swears, but it’s perfectly balanced by the harrowing plot, full to the brim with torture, murder, betrayal, and the occult. Puzzles are never frustratingly difficult – there’s always some sort of a hint in the surroundings, waiting to be picked apart by your prying eyes. And if it’s all still too much for you, the clever hint system is there to point you in the right direction without feeling like a walkthrough. Yesterday is a murder mystery delving into the occult, wrapped up in a harrowing, yet darkly humorous, point-and-click adventure. From exploring a decrepit train station, to mixing alchemist’s chemicals in the right order, all the way to playing a strange version of odds-and-evens with your master in Tibet, Yesterday is a game that deserves to be experienced by anyone with an interest in anything I’ve mentioned in this review. Murders. Mysteries. Torture. Betrayal. Suicide. Dick jokes.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Yesterday by Focus Home Interactive.