Yesterday Origins PC Review
Tim Schafer once mentioned in his Kickstarter video back in 2012 – for what would eventually become Broken Age – that “adventure games are a lost art form. They exist only in our memories and dreams and Germany.” While he might have been on to something to support his case for going to Kickstarter to create a new point-and-click game, there were still an existence of the genre, just without a mainstream hit to support it. While the adventure genre has evolved in many ways, moving into the cinematic space with Telltale Games’ dialogue driven stories or into titles that are often dubbed as “Walking Simulators,” point-and-click adventures still breathe, such as Yesterday, a title that came out just a few days after the end of the Broken Age Kickstarter, and was a worthwhile addition to anyone’s adventure game catalogue that it managed to gain a sequel.
As the Origins title implies, the game begins almost 500 years from Origins‘s present day. In this prologue, players are introduced to a young man, Miguel de Castro, who is being transported to jail for his crimes of “being the devil’s son.” The reason for this? Young Miguel can use both his hands and has the ability to read any language put before him, which triggers the local townsfolk into thinking he has made a pack with Satan and must be vanished from this world. Luckily for him, he was saved, and for the player, this leads them into knowing that the character is actually John Yesterday, but 500 years ago.
John is a very special person, as he became immortal thanks to a specific ritual that completely changed his life a long time ago. While that does sound like a brilliant way to live, the issue with John is that every time he dies, he returns to the same age as when he first gained immortality, but with none of his memories intact. John is staring in his own version of Memento, leaving video messages and website logs to re-jig his memory if he ever happens to die.
John’s not alone in his immortality adventures, as his girlfriend, Pauline, also has the gift, but an improved version of the potion has allowed her to keep her memories intact upon rebirth. The game doesn’t shy away from demonstrating how good this gift is, as within 20 minutes, Pauline exhibits some dark humour in regards to this power, using it to the point it appears as a normal feature in their everyday life, a topic that I wasn’t expecting to see in the game. Her improved immortality is also the motivation for John to hunt down an artefact so that he can use it to fix his memory handicap.
The game’s tale jumps between the current time with John and Pauline to times in the past that flesh out the backstory. It’s done so in a natural way to avoid confusion, as these scenes are activated when John comes into contact with historical items of significance to him. It helps that the writing is great, especially the titbits of dialogue where the characters comment on things that are all so common in our society today, such as the Internet, which gets more than a few jokey mentions here. Overall, the story is one that’s worth sticking with, and while its on the short end to some of the bigger more well-know point-and-click games, it’s compact size allows for the story to move quickly, even if the present day arc doesn’t seem to be moving in a forward direction until the latter half of the game.
Yesterday Origins is as traditional late 90s point-and-click title as you will find, so anyone who has sampled a small portion of the genre will instantly understand how it plays. This is a genre that flourishes on telling a good story, chatting to numerous characters to unfold hints through dialogue options, investigating every area that can be clicked on to discover items, both in clear sight or craftily hidden. And of course, a staple favourite, solving any puzzles that may be in the way of progressing the narrative, be it interacting with them in the environment or coming up with solutions by combined items stashed in the bottomless pockets that every main character that stars in a point-and-click game seem to have.
But Yesterday Origins isn’t without issues with its presentation of the genre. For one, I actually opted to play with an Xbox One controller instead of a mouse on the PC version, because finding the interactive objects in the environment with the mouse requires moving the point until you see it begin to slightly glow. Some objects are obvious, such as the large pig in the jail cell, but others are tucked away that you can waste a lot of time looking for them – it’s all communicated poorly. Using a controller fixes this as directly controlling John or Pauline to move them around the environment causes a button to pop up on the screen when the character is close to something that can be selected. It’s weird to say this, but yes, playing a point-and-click game with a controller on PC is the best way to experience Yesterday Origins because of the issue it solves with interaction, and the game’s interface doesn’t even suffer from this peripheral choice.
One thing a controller cannot solve though is one’s mental ability to decipher some of the puzzles. It’s a problem that has plagued games across the genre, and Yesterday Origins suffers a similar fate with some obtuse puzzle solutions that take some thinking out of the box to come up with a answer. Due to the way the story is told through present and past times, there is a limitation on the items that can be used, but the inclusion of being able to inspect NPCs to look for clues and dialogue options also allowing additional options as topic of interests to use as an interactive option for a puzzle or combination of items means that what could have been solved with limited items opens up possibilities of frustration when a solution doesn’t ‘click‘ for someone. There isn’t many situations like this, but when you hit one, it can be that stone wall in front of a fast moving car that halts the momentum.
Pendulo Studios return with their distinctive visuals from Yesterday, using the similar stylish cel-shaded modelling technique that reminds me a lot of full motion video from the late 90s. All this is mixed with lovely pre-rendered backdrops that are used with a comic book presentation for small cutscenes. At times there are signs that the game is made with a limited budget, such as seeing two items interact with each other in a simple computer graphics animation that could be shown in a high-school biology demonstration using Microsoft Encarta (anyone remember that?), but overall, it all comes together with the pleasing soundtrack and decent voice acting (spoilt only by the poor lip syncing) for a solid presentation.
Yesterday Origins is straight up a point-and-click game as they come, bringing all the things from the old days of the genre and does nothing drastic to change from the norm. It might be a short trek for an adventure game, lasting around 6 hours, but what is here is a fascinating tale that manages to do flashbacks in a way to compliment the story its telling. It certainly won’t be looked upon as a classic – it has some issues with its gameplay – but its style, narrative and characters make it a good, enjoyable time for fans of the genre who can look past some of the annoyances that they are most likely used to.