‘Yesterday’ Game Review
When I was in high school I had a friend who brought over some pictures he took while exploring a supposedly abandoned lair of a satanic cult. It was in some old hospital or similarly eerie place and he told me about how creepy the place was before showing me the pictures, which made me break down laughing and ruined his story completely. The place was filled with graffiti on the walls, 666s and pentagrams and other obvious devilish messages scrawled around the place. It was immediately obvious to me that the place hadn’t been inhabited by any serious Satanic worshipers- just a bunch of kids who had picked up some horror movies and spray paint.
You’ll get the same feeling from Yesterday, a point and click adventure game about a satanic cult. The first horror title from Pendulo Studios, the Spanish developer who gained fame with their lighthearted Runaway trilogy, Yesterday is full of cheap amusement park-level scares. Masters of Horror they may not be, but they certainly know their way around video games.
As Tim Shafer pointed out with his recent Kickstarter success, there’s still a market for the point and click genre, and Pendulo Studios knows that better than anyone. They’ve sold more than a million copies of the Runaway series and helped keep that candle burning over the last decade with fun, imaginative games filled with unique graphics and humor. They’re definitely out stepping their boundaries here, though, as the few bits of silly humor included are much more effective than anything else.
The story revolves around a man named John Yesterday, an expert on satanic cults. Or at least he was- he’s currently suffering from amnesia, that most trendy of mental ailments. He was working for a rich man named Henry White investigating some murders of homeless people that had supposedly been killed by a cult. After a prologue that shows Henry before he came into his money, we’re handed over to John as he seeks to figure out who he is, and just what happened to him. Along the way you’ll find all sorts of supposedly scary images but like 666 scrawled on the wall in a teenager’s sloppy handwriting it just doesn’t ring true. There are a couple of good jump scares here and there, though, and the interesting story takes some truly great twists, even if some owe a surprising debt to a certain Indiana Jones film.
But a game like this lives or dies based on its puzzles, and fortunately you’ve got a lot of clever ones to contend with. As is the case with even the best games in the genre there’s a couple that require stretches of the imagination, and you’ll always end up collecting items that are there more to trick you than anything, but for the most part they’re solid. The game provides its own help via a button that highlights any objects to interact with on a screen (they blip on and off, so it’s not 100% clear), and another that flat-out tells you what you have to do next. An in-game hint system might have been needed to avoid frustration when you’ve gone around trying everything you can think of, but this is the kind of game that’s ruined with help. If you don’t like taking a few seconds to think of a puzzle stay far away from this.
It’s also told fairly well- while it does overly rely on familiar tropes like amnesia and flashbacks, the game smartly jumps around time and lets you play through critical moments in a character’s past before seeing how that influenced his current events.
Unfortunately just as the story gets interesting and the puzzles more tricky, Yesterday abruptly ends. The game can take you around 3-5 hours depending on how long you get stuck on the puzzles, a very short amount of time for a retail game. There are three different endings to Yesterday but they’re not consequences of your actions, merely chosen via a selection screen at the very end. Since the game autosaves your progress it’s easy to return, try the other two and be done with the game.
The running time wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t that ending make the game feel very small, and the locations don’t help. For example, your whole experience of NYC is inside an abandoned subway tunnel, and you head to Paris but never venture outside of your hotel room. Watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle away from the balcony merely makes you wish for more interesting locations.
But even with these caveats, Yesterday is still a fine installment with some great brain-teasers. Adventure gamers who have made their way through all of Telltale Games’ repertoire would do well to check it out, as long as they know that their trip isn’t going to be particularly long or scary.
Yesterday ($29) is available now for the PC via Steam and other digital distribution platforms. It was developed by Pendulo Studios and published by Focus Home Interactive. This review was based on five hours with a copy provided by the publisher.