Yesterday opens with a flash of chains, bloody messages, Satanic iconography, and a series of inexplicably linked photographs, then jumps back in time one year. It’s an efficient, immediate hook, and it jibes well with the overall storytelling of this adventure game, which revolves around the missing memories of John Yesterday. One moment, you’ll be in an antique shop in Paris, figuring out which alchemic symbols to insert into a mysterious cross; the next, you’ll be in Tibet, unlocking your swordfighting memories so that, in the present, you can save your girlfriend, Pauline, from her gun-toting captor. Pendulo Studios does an excellent job with this pacing and presentation, and you’ll never feel lost or especially outfoxed by the puzzles, but at roughly five hours in length, Yesterday is the sort of game only a replay-obsessed amnesiac could wholly recommend.
Aside from the cripplingly short length (there are fewer than 30 screens to explore, and maybe 10 people to interact with), Yesterday also suffers from a tonal imbalance, as if Pendulo, known primarily for their comic games, is unable to commit fully to its darker material. In the midst of a tense hostage situation, one character is plagued by memories of his terrifying scout leader; elsewhere, two obese American tourists have been inserted into the game purely for dialogue-based laughs; at least the similarly off-putting hotel clerk provides Mr. Yesterday with some useful inventory items. What’s most frustrating is that Yesterday, like most adventure games, already provides a built-in place for such humor: the smug retorts of a narrator who refuses to follow through on absurd commands, such as attempting to open a padlock with a soda can.
But out of respect to the strong, albeit implausible, plot, these issues are largely forgotten when actually playing the game. Creepy whistles and synthesized music echo through the speakers, and the strong visual style of the game’s many camera angles (fish-eye and overhead shots mix things up, bringing Full Throttle to mind) compel you to keep exploring. The smart addition of a “hot spot” button allows gamers to quickly identify the objects with which they can interact (thereby avoiding the dreaded “pixel hunt”); this is useful, as some combinations are less than obvious, though ultimately logical. Even the bits that aren’t innovative are at least slickly executed; fans of Broken Sword will feel right at home.
Pendulo also makes some interesting aesthetic decisions that will hopefully influence rival studios (I’m looking at you, Telltale Games). For one, they’ve eliminated transitions between actions: That is, your character doesn’t walk from object to object so much as he fades out and in, so there’s less downtime between each attempt to solve a puzzle. Secondly, the game creates a new save file before each sequence: So as far as I can tell, you can’t actually die in the game (and not just because Yesterday’s immortal), but if you did, or just wanted to relive an earlier memory, you’d need only to select it. Throw in the robust (and optional) hint system and you’ve got a hassle-free adventure game that can focus on its cinematic storytelling without worrying that the user might hit an unsolvable puzzle. (To the hardcore Sierra/LucasArts fans out there, this isn’t dumbed-down so much as it is universally accessible.)
Despite the inescapable brevity and relative lack of challenge, or even depth, Yesterday is at least a stylishly entertaining adventure game that will hopefully lead to better ones tomorrow.