While there have been many attempts in recent years to modernize adventure games in titles like Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire, it feels like the only place to still play an old school point and click adventure game is on a computer, and possibly only in Europe. Besides Telltale Games' success with titles like Sam and Max, Monkey Island and Back to the Future (let's pretend Jurassic Park never happened, shall we?) it seems that American developers have given up on the style. Fortunately there are plenty of studios in Europe cranking out games, and to great success at that.
Yesterday is the latest game from Pendulo Studios, the Spanish gang behind the popular Runaway trilogy. They’ve sold a million copies of the series, no small feat for the tiny developer, and are trying to turn Yesterday into their next hit by making it the darkest game they’ve ever done. But that’s what you get when you tell a story about a religious cult sacrificing people under the streets of NYC.
They sent us a preview build that was about an hour in length, a nice intro that ended on a little cliffhanger and provided a good idea of what the final game would be.
You start off playing as Henry White, a member of The Children of Don Quixote, a group of social workers of sorts that are trying to help out the poor folk of NYC. Someone seems to have taken note of the city's rampant homeless problem and has decided that the best way to fix said problem is with the gentle but firm application of fire, and many bodies have been turning up burned beyond recognition. The authorities don’t particularly care about the dead bums because all they were contributing to society was urine and fecal matter on the uptown BMT subway platform at Herald Square every single morning (AHEM), but the Children want to help.
Skinny, nerdy White in particular is a rich heir who thinks he can do good for the world, so he grabs a list of homeless populations and decides to go into one of the more dangerous areas to warn people about the killer/s. It’s in an abandoned subway station and, in true adventure game style, you’ll find a locked gate barring your way, forcing you to make due with the various objects you find cluttered around the world to advance. A pipe, a child’s toy, a cable; as usual they won’t make sense to collect at first but you’ll soon figure out how to combine them to get what you need. There are no real gameplay surprises here for the style- you simply move the cursor around the screen till something is highlighted and click to check it out more closely. The bottom of the screen shows your inventory, and if you want to combine items or use one with the environment you just drag it and drop it.
The cartoony and hyper-stylized art style really is refreshing and provides nice juxtaposition against the eerie, dark feel of the game. It’s not a very scary game but it is a moody one, and there’s a nice little jump scare when you see what you think is an inhabitant. Worse yet is what happens when you finally break the lock on the barred gate and see what has become of the population down there. You get pistol-whipped and knocked out, awakening to see a crazed homeless man with gum disease holding a gun to your head while a man conducts a sermon to a crowd of mannequins.
This is why we don’t help the homeless, folks.
As the leader tries to determine your fate, you have a few dialogue options here but they all lead to a dangerous showdown... with a game of chess. Due to White’s boasts of intelligence your captor gives you a few chessboard layouts with one correct move in order to win the game. Does it make any sense? No, not at all. Does it kill the mood a bit? Yeah, it does.
After a successful game of chess, they decide not to kill White immediately and instead lock him in a subway train with an armed, crazy derelict who keeps talking about his dead kid. As usual, it’s up to you to use your inventory to figure out a way of escaping without getting your head blown off. You will, and then figure out a way to make an emergency phone call from the broken pay phone on the wall in the station.
Your friend Cooper, a big dumb bruiser of a man, gets the call and now it’s his turn to get his hands dirty. The only problem is that he’s a chicken. Constantly seeing flashbacks of some Scout Leader screaming at him and questioning his manhood, Cooper decides he wants to find a light of some sort before heading down into the dark. A quick search of the car and objects scattered around the surrounding area nets him a torch, and he heads down to figure out what happened to his friend.
Here the game has a nice twist: you actually use objects that White has previously gathered for different puzzles, as you try to figure out where he is and what happened to him. Arming yourself with a revolver (bullets found separately, of course) you finally burst into the congregation of mannequins and... well, you’ll have to play the game to find out what happens next.
I’d be surprised if this preview build wasn’t eventually released as a demo because, other than a few hiccups during character movement and a couple of the cinemas, it was nearly done, and it certainly will convince people to pick up the game. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Yesterday, but it’s a solid point and click title with a good story and a nice dark streak to it, and that works for me. There are more playable characters and plenty of locations hinted at in the promotional screens and such, so don’t worry about spending all your time with dirty bums. In fact, I haven't even met the title character John Yesterday ("Aha!", you say) who is sent to investigate the cult...
Focus Home Interactive will release Yesterday in March for PC, Mac and iPad. Check the official site for more.