Even taking into account “the death of the Adventure genre” and the fact that it has indeed become a niche, its representatives have somehow maintained themselves above the floating line, even in the present day, when competitive multiplayer seems to be the norm of the industry.
The Spanish Pendulo Studios have been fighting bravely on the European front from the last decade, but if Yesterday would have been released 10-12 years ago, we would have had serious reasons for concern. Because it constantly bears the marks of limitation, whether financial or trend-imposed, failing in almost every aspect needed by a successful Adventure.
In the beginning we find ourselves in the company of Henry White, a rich and kindhearted student who works in New York for a humanitarian NGO. Someone has started killing homeless people and seeing that the police and the media don’t really care about the situation, its resolve lays in Henry’s hands and those that support him. Henry seems benevolent almost beyond belief, delivers an “I care!” that you can only look upon suspiciously and together with his best friend, Samuel Cooper, begins the investigation in a decommissioned metro station.
I said that Yesterday misses some essential aspects that an Adventure needs, but in a misleading way it marks above average in others that matter less. The atmosphere is constantly enriched with short musical compositions, not subtle enough as to not seem intrusive sometimes, but suitable to the scenes they accompany. The graphics are at the high standard that Pendulo has worked on all these years, but in line with other limitations, its charm stops in a very inappropriate place. When the characters are talking, we see their portraits, very detailed otherwise, but with no other animation except that of the mouth, making for some very robotic figures, all the more prominent since you have to look them “in the face”.
That said, we can move on to the stuff that really matters: the puzzles. For someone who has never considered himself great at Adventures, my first attempt to finish the enigma took about four hours, with the second and third runs being, of course, much shorter. I appreciate the relative “correct” logic of most of the puzzles, but more important than this, Yesterday does something that I consider essential: it comes with warnings and descriptions for combinations of objects that won’t do anything useful. Not for everything, mind you; some combinations that would actually work somewhat have been left with no description whatsoever, but such a feature should become a standard of the genre.
Which brings me to one of the constant, but not very disruptive problems: a tendency to over-explain a lot of actions through text, be they useful or not for the advancement of the story. I suppose that the reason for which the voice of the current on-screen character was not chosen (something much more natural for immersion) is of financial nature, but even so, it’s hard to understand why you are being told that your character does this or that instead of a first-person reply, through which he would announce what bothers him. For me, this meant a severe blow to the immersion and one of the major reasons for which I couldn’t care less what happened at the end.
But still, there is a great variation of this aspect in the few minutes you control Cooper, Henry’s best friend. When a combination is not useful or in the case of completing two or three puzzles, Cooper is suddenly faced with the painful memory of a boy scout captain from his childhood, who found much pleasure in mocking Cooper.
Due to the fact that his adventuring section is very short, it’s understandable that resources have been found for the variation in presentation and the removal of text-only descriptions, except that the entire game could have benefited from this approach. Without it, we are left with the need to read what our character cannot do, what he feels in certain moments or about whatever comes up in his memories.
The help system, which I called upon in a very small measure, comes in the two modes that have become standard in recent years. First, objects on the screen that you can interact with can be marked for short time, after which you can read a small hint about what should be done, that varies in detail. Sometimes it is vague enough, as I wanted it, other times you are told exactly what needs to be done. And so, I do not recommend the hint system except in emergency cases, first because the puzzles are mostly logical enough and second because the game’s ending comes too fast even without help.
Since RPG influences could not be left out, in the introductory part of the game Henry is faced with some choices… that all lead to the same result, so maybe they could have actually been left out. Even more, in the same scene, in a matter of life and death, you must “guess” three correct chess moves from a list of 15. In my first pass of the adventure, I was keen on making the right moves, but I missed one.
Nothing happened, a text informed me that the move was wrong and I should try another. Pardon? I then started making all the wrong choices to see if anything bad happens. Zero negative consequences, the same friendly text announced me that the moves were wrong until the very last, the correct one, when the action could finally continue. Why exactly are you offered different choices if you are not allowed even one wrong step from the set course is pretty unclear.
Another choice that looks like a child of the times is the “teleportation” of the characters directly to useable objects when you click on them. You won’t even need a double-click, one is enough to see your character at the “scene of the crime”. This reminded me of the legion of online point-and-click adventures, because there are moments when the character you control is practically useless as a visual presence. You click, a puzzle is solved, you’ve made progress, but look, somewhere on the screen you also have an avatar.