If you spent the last decade mainly playing console games, you may have lived with the assumption that nobody makes point-and-click adventure games anymore. Although their relevance has waned – or perhaps more accurately, never received the post 90’s mainstream bump many other genres got – they’re very much still a presence on PC.
One studio that’s been prolific in this space is Pendulo Studios, a Spanish developer most known for the Runaway games. Their latest game is a tonal departure from their usual, light hearted shenanigans, but at its core remains a traditional approach to the genre.
You begin the game as Henry White – a rich and seemingly idealistic young man who is part of a charitable organisation. Together with his friend, Samuel Cooper, he’s investigating recent disappearances and random ritualistic killings of homeless people. We join them as they arrive at an abandoned train station, about to have an encounter that will change them irreversibly and plunge them both into a world of darkness. As they grow into their new roles, the greater mystery soon becomes evident – who is John Yesterday?
I’m sorry for sounding like a vague back-of-the-box blurb, but in order to say more than that about its story, I’d have to go to absurd lengths to tip toe around its plethora of twists and turns. It’s a compact, small scale and intimate tale that will only take you about four to five hours to see through, but it’s one that goes through its story beats with impressive confidence, conviction, and oodles of mind boggling revelations.
Yesterday employs a non-linear storytelling approach and isn’t afraid to jump around its own timeline on a whim. It can be jarring at first when it catches you off guard, but, once it becomes a regular occurrence and settles into the pacing of the game, it defines Yesterday as a story based experience. As an unfortunate result of this near-aggressive emphasis on non-chronology, however, the game regularly insists on a sit down, with characters spoon feeding you wordy exposition as you click through lines of dialogue. Some of the elegance is definitely diminished when the game visibly doubts your ability to distinguish deliberate intrigue from losing track of what’s going on.
But whenever Yesterday turns into a game, the lack of tangible context for its puzzle scenarios is its main cause for concern. All too often you walk into a locale and end up looking for the puzzle in lieu of any apparent, logical way of progressing. Lacking item descriptions and vague goals contribute to this, but in many cases the motivation or intentions of the character are simply poorly communicated, or not conveyed at all.
This in turn prompts the over-reliance on a button you click to see the various points of interaction in the environment, which would hardly be necessary if the situation fed better into the puzzle design. It has you poking around stuff before knowing why, and you’re often half-way through solving a puzzle without even knowing what you’re trying to accomplish. That critically undermines your sense of accomplishment, compromising the entire experience, since solving puzzles is effectively your only task as a player.
In terms of the production, Yesterday feels budget-mindedly lavish. Backgrounds are beautifully painted, and pre-rendered characters employ a cel-shaded finish – as seen in Pendulo’s previous efforts – to blend into the environments. Cutscenes feature a pseudo-comic book style, with panels and slick framing of elements within the cinematic. This stylistic approach blends surprisingly well with the rest of the game, and creates a coherent style that seamlessly transitions into their fixed-perspective dialogue scenes, as well as into the main game itself.
Supporting all of this is a surprisingly good soundtrack. Well written and well inserted to create the appropriate, eerie mood, it’s also a very subtle presence, flowing in and out in a very dynamic way as you walk around a scene. The voice work is mostly solid where it needs to be. It’s a very character driven story and relatively small cast, so this could definitely have been an obstacle, but aside from a few instances where intimacy is conveyed by sounding really nasal, it’s on point.
In fact, everything about the presentation is robust and competently put together. It’s from a developer that knows how to produce an adventure game, and could probably turn one out blind folded. With that said, in order to enjoy Yesterday, you must be willing to gloss over the fact that you may never find fun, nor real satisfaction, in its logic-leap ridden gameplay. If you are new to the genre, there are more accomplished games, wherein all elements work in tandem, awaiting your attention.
However, if you’re an avid adventure game player with most of your life-changing and genre-defining point-and-click experiences behind you, this is a worthwhile addition to your library. Pendulo Studios‘ latest offers up an interesting plot with some inspired narrative devices, and even though the parts where it’s a video game are rather lacking representations of the genre, they amount to an adequate delivery mechanism for its – albeit short – genuinely intriguing story.