Developer: Pendulo Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
I've said it before and I'll say it again: point & click adventure games are not dead. Contrary to popular belief, several smaller companies thrive on giving us the cerebral, satisfying, item-driven puzzles we used to enjoy back in the day, and Pendulo Studios have been doing little else over the past few years. After brining the Runaway series to a close, this boutique outfit has opted to craft a much darker and more mature adventure with Yesterday; an unflinching narrative experience that gives us a disturbing look into the fictional cults hiding beneath Paris' and New York's thin classy veneer.
Players are introduced to John Yesterday, a private detective who contracted a convenient dose of amnesia (argh) after trying to kill himself (ooh). Driven by the need to discover exactly why he decided to take his own life in a seedy hotel room, our hero delves into an increasingly nightmarish urban underworld festering with murderous torturers who prey on the forgotten homeless, mysterious Satanic cults and a plethora of bizarre, twisted and not entirely trustworthy characters.
Of course, he'll also have to randomly combine a whole bunch of items together.
The story and characterisation are top notch, and it's clear that Pendulo studios have sunk an inordinate amount of effort into ensuring that Yesterday offers a more thought-provoking narrative than the majority of the competition. While some of their trademark dark humour occasionally seeps through - a perverted prostitute-obsessed concierge and hilarious item descriptions are particular highlights - this is a mature gaming experience that never shies away from explicit graphical depictions of murder, torture and human misery. Some excellent voice acting and well-written dialogue help to immerse you in the world, and gives you a great reason to keep on pointing and clicking. And combining.
Yesterday is an incredibly pretty game, featuring comic book visuals that frequently portray the action from unexpected camera angles and perspectives. Characters are emotive and well-animated, sporting a nifty rotorscoped effect that's exceptionally attractive in motion. Rich, colourful art design helps to make the environments and characters pop out, and again, it's obvious that Pendulo have spared no expense in making sure that their production values can rival the biggest and best games on the scene - if not exceed them entirely.
You'll no doubt have realised that I haven't actually discussed the gameplay yet, though, and it's partly because there's not a huge amount to write about at face value. After all, it's a point & click adventure game. You'll point and click on scenery objects to examine them, or put them into your inventory if they're portable. You'll point and click on inventory items to take a closer look, or drag in order to attempt to combine them together. You'll point and click on scene transitions to walk between scenes, or on characters to engage in the aforementioned well-written dialogue. It's a familiar framework that will be instantly accessible to anyone who knows how to use a mouse, though the ability to highlight all interaction points within each screen helps to ease some of the traditional random clicking that pervades similar adventure games.
Most of the puzzles are well thought-out and require some clever analytical detective work, along with common sense solutions that make players feel as if they've beaten the developers by themselves. But sadly, a good third of the solutions are unbelievably obtuse and obnoxiously illogical. In fact, several of the puzzles can only be solved by preposterously complex machinations which no sane man would ever consider - meaning that you'll only solve them by combining every item in your bulging inventory until something totally unexpected happens. There's no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction to be found from a much of the gameplay, rather, it's just a case of banging your head against every scenery element until you discover the bizarre answer by total accident.
Or you could use the unbelievably condescending hint system. It's fair enough that hints should make users feel a little stupid, but not when some of the solutions are so patently ridiculous.
To illustrate this in action, I'd like to walk you through one of the smallest, earliest puzzles (skip to the next paragraph if you're a purist). Upon encountering a padlocked gate, you'll find yourself unable to prise it open with a steel bar or pick it with a length of wire. For, erm, totally convenient reasons. After a few minutes of aggravating clicking, you'll eventually use a pair of wire cutters on a soda can to create a curved shard of metal that can be slipped into the top of the padlock in order to move the cylinders. You'd never have thought to do that - no-one would - and the fact that the protagonist (not John Yesterday at this point in the narrative) automatically decides to put it in the top of the lock means that you'd never have considered that course of action yourself. Some of the harder puzzles totally defy logic, and it's never possible to get into Pendulo's mindset enough to understand where they're coming from.
That said, combining items is less of a chore than in some games I could mention (The Monkey Island sequels spring to mind) thanks to plenty of item-specific dialogue. Constantly being told that "I can't do that," quickly becomes boring, whereas in Yesterday, you'll frequently be told that there's no point illuminating something with a torch or other vaguely amusing put-down. And again, I'd like to reiterate that the majority of the puzzles are well-crafted... while they last.
See, Yesterday is also rather short, to put things bluntly. Five hours may be an acceptable length for a downloadable adventure campaign, but it's not long enough to get to know some of the key characters sufficiently to care about them (especially John's love interest who we rarely see and don't particularly want to rescue when she's inevitably put in jeopardy). It's also slightly too short to do justice to the storyline, which truncates somewhat towards the end. Since Yesterday is retailing at £20 and offers very little in the way of replay value - despite a multiple choice ending - traditional value is at a serious premium here.
Luckily, quality is a legitimate kind of value.
- Fantastic graphics, art design, audio and production values
- Compelling, disturbing storyline and well written characters
- Plenty of clever and enjoyable puzzles...
- ... let down by some annoyingly obtuse solutions that totally defy logic
- Too short for the story
- Nil replay value, poor value at RRP
The Short Version: Yesterday is a compelling, dark and brilliantly-written adventure game with production values we rarely see in the genre. Several ridiculous left field puzzle solutions and a disappointingly short story stop it from matching up with the best that Wadjet Eye and other boutique studios have to offer, but Pendulo have delivered a worthy and disturbing adventure nonetheless.