Pendulo studios have had a long history in making adventure games, starting in the mid-'90s and continuing up to the recent Runaway franchise and last year's release The Next Big Thing. Yesterday is the studio's latest point and click title, and Pendulo's first attempt at breaking away from their traditional comedy roots; but does it succeed in creating a darker edge?
Yesterday (PC [Reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Pendulo Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Released: March 22, 2012
Back in February, I played what turned out to be the first chapter of Yesterday, a section where you can control two of the three main characters of the game: the philanthropic and studious Henry White and his oafish friend Cooper. Both men work for a charity committed to helping the homeless people in New York, but after a serial killer starts murdering members of the community, Henry and Cooper take a risk and venture into the abandoned Cadway Subway station to see who they can help. Here, they meet the murderous Choke and Boris and are forced to take drastic action.
In the full game, you'll also take control of satanic cult investigator John Yesterday (how do people get a job like that?), who is recovering from an apparent suicide attempt which has left him with amnesia. This part of the story takes place a number of years after the first chapter. Henry White now runs White Enterprises and continues his philanthropic work, and has employed John as there is a believed link to the still un-captured serial killer and the occult.
The game starts off in earnest with John in Paris, re-tracing his steps and attempting to re-build his memories. It's here where Yesterday's influences start to show, namely in classic point and click titles like Broken Sword and Gabriel Knight with their globe trotting adventures, links to historical cults, and conspiracies; these are all present in Yesterday, but it they don't feel like a re-tread despite their familiarity. The story pulls some interesting twists, too. The players will know the identity of the killer very quickly, and it's interesting to watch the story pan out as John uncovers why he's been given his task, and how it ties into his past.
Whilst the story moves at a fair pace, travelling to locales such as Paris, New York, and Scotland, it can feel slightly disjointed in a few places. Particularly when there's some action, and John has a flashback to a time where he spent training with an blind Indian master. These breaks in the action aren't necessarily bad, but they pop up just at a cliffhanger moment, like when John is held up at gun point or is surrounded by thugs.
Graphically, Yesterday sticks close to Pendulo's style of over-exaggerated, slightly cartoon-ish characters. Henry and Cooper's character design really reflects their personalities and it's interesting to see Henry as the older, more confident businessman in contrast to his first appearance as a gawky teenager, both in appearance and the voice work. However, John Yesterday is fairly bland both in terms of his character and his design. His bland character is understandable as he's recovering his memories, but he's sadly not as interesting as Henry or Cooper. Similarly, John's relationship with his lover Pauline seems rushed and feels both under and over-developed as John's flashbacks collide with his present day circumstances. Pauline is hostile towards John but then runs off with him to a foreign country at the drop of a hat.
When it comes to its mechanics, Yesterday sticks to the usual point and click controls mixed with Pendulo's own tweaks; the highlight button is still there, meaning the game doesn't resort to pixel hunting, which is a big bonus. Also in place is the hints system, which will give you a series of clues to solve your next objective. The button fills up with each object you interact with, so you can't just keep pressing the button; you have to actually attempt some solution before the answer is revealed. Nonetheless, the hint system is a powerful tool and whilst there's nothing to stop you from simply looking up an FAQ, I found myself burning through Yesterday fairly quickly thanks to the in-game hints system.
The puzzles themselves are a mixed bag ranging from the logical common sense uses (a key with a door), to more challenging puzzles like chess solutions or puzzles involving alchemical symbols, and an early sequence involving John piecing together clues he had left himself in his Parisian hotel room. Whilst the variety is welcome, the game's latter stages lower the difficulty and in the ending sequence, you're only really given a really obvious combination to "end" the game. It's a shame and it feels like the story takes precedence over the gameplay and player agency.
Despite these flaws, Yesterday is a good, competent point and click game, even if Pendulo's attempts at a "darker" story don't mesh with the game's art style and humorous nods. The tale the developers have woven with serial killers, satanic cults, and immortality does wrap up in surprising ways. For instance, parts of the first chapter that I found odd at the time make sense given the full story, and the multiple endings are a neat way of giving the story different shades of resolution. Yesterday will sate the needs of adventure game fans, and there's a possibility that this is a game that could have a sequel or two in the future.