Point-and-Click adventure titles are a bit of a niche market. If you’re the sort to dive into their extensive charm, perhaps you are familiar with Pendulo Studios. Having a catalogue of a half a dozen or so of the titles, one could fairly state that they know a thing or two. Or three.
Enter Yesterday, a peculiar thriller with a decidedly darker approach than Pendulo’s past endeavours. It’s new ground for the studio but if my time with the game is any indication, they seem to be adapting extremely well.
The first thing to jump out at me was the exaggerated, cartoonish art direction. Sure, the pallet of the environment is a bit dark but the characters themselves would be right at home in a daytime educational television program. This visual innocence of the characters is atmospherically important, but more on that in a bit.
For the bulk of the preview I took control of Henry White, a scrawny yet bold boy genius who volunteers for an organization that strives to get homeless people back on their feet. As a result, he is tasked with exploring an everyday, normal, abandoned subway station in order to locate and rehabilitate any vagrants dwelling inside. Said task turns out to be harder than expected when Henry discovers that not only is he going to have to employ his genius to even navigate the dark and dangerous locale but he is also going to have to confront some rather unbalanced folk.
Long story short, Henry gets himself captured. At this point, goofy, archetypal jock Sam Cooper must come to his rescue. It is quickly apparent that Sam lacks the finesse and reasoning of his friend and partner, Henry. Where Henry may use a makeshift lockpick, Cooper will resort to brute force and, instead, opt to pry the lock from the door.
In terms of personality, both of these characters are written as strong stereotypes. While this sounds like a condemnation, I assure you that it is not. The device of stereotypes seems to be used to set the players expectations early so that the game can in turn defy them. I was momentarily taken aback when Cooper found and loaded a gun. Beneath the simple and lovable surface of the characters and art lies a compelling and oft unsettling narrative.
The story thus far is largely based around two unstable yet lovable vagrants. The more outspoken of them has taken to ruling the subway station, providing spiritual guidance to an audience of mannequins. Having lost his mind over the tragic and certain death of his son, his underling possesses a more tragic, though equally delusional, presence; you find him planning his son’s birthday, insisting that the boy is alive somewhere. Despite the two having an antagonistic relationship with Henry, they are the deepest characters in the game so far and I can’t help but harbour a degree of sympathy for the pair.
Naturally an adventure title would be nothing without its puzzles and, in this regard, Yesterday impresses the most. While some of the puzzles are obvious, though still interesting in their design, others had me stumped for longer than I care to admit. I picked a lock with a strip of aluminium I sliced from a soda can. I pried a briefcase free of rubble by devising a crank from a pipe and some length of wire. I made a phone call from a broken payphone using a toy keyboard, a quarter and a broken receiver. Each and every time the solutions dawned on me, I had to smile. The developers are clever and they’re not afraid of showing you so in their games.
Also included are conversation options. It isn’t yet clear what kind of effects, if any, these choices have on the game’s plot. Fair warning though, these conversations and, in fact, a lot of the games dialogue are laughably corny. Whether this reflects the final product is hard to say but the cheese filled lines are undeniable. I am honestly not certain if they were intended to be that way. In my brief time with the game I have gained the sneaking suspicion that no element is an accident and they’re all important ingredients in the overall effect. Or maybe not.
Regardless of the how, the end result is an immediately captivating experience that I long to continue whenever Yesterday finally releases. Alas, this anticipation is the true rub to previewing games.