Pendulo Studios is one of the best-known modern developers of point and click adventures. Though they aren’t prolific by any means, their Runaway series placed them firmly on the adventuring map and they have built up a solid fan base over the years. Their style is very unique and is immediately recognisable on every title they release – a cel-shaded graphical interface with a wry, often dark, European sense of humour. Coming as the sequel to 2012’s mobile adventure Yesterday (which was later ported to PC and Mac), Yesterday Origins is a deeper, more complex adventure – but one not without its faults.
Game: Yesterday Origins
Developer: Pendulo Studios
(Review code provided by publisher)
Players take control of the titular John Yesterday – who has lived over 500 years after being saved from certain death at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition in the middle ages. Falling in with a Demonic cult after his close shave, he underwent an alchemical process that now allows him to be resurrected whenever he dies – his body and mind both reverting to the state they were in the initial time he first died. He loses his memory every time this takes place, so it is handy that his Girlfriend Pauline has te same resurrection power – but she suffers none of the amnesia issues.
Yesterday Origins follows John and Pauline as they delve into John’s past in order to find out just how he got his power – and how they can solve his memory-loss problem. because we are re-visiting the events that shaped John’s future, the story jumps backwards and forwards between flashbacks and present day frequently. This could become confusing, but each flashback is linked to a mystery or puzzle in the present day, and feels like a natural segue into a different scene. This allows for a real variety of different locations to play through, as the story progresses. The story is interesting and makes you want to find out just what happened in the past, but its writers seem unable to decide whether they want to be writing a gritty drama or a wacky comedy.
Gameplay is very traditional for a point and click title, with dialogue and inventory puzzles the order of the day. Interestingly though, as well as collecting items, you can collect clues that can then be used on items, or people, to help unearth new ideas or information. There is a full Hotspot system too where anything you can interact with in a scene is highlighted and you simply cycle through them at will, which makes things easier, despite there being no in-game hint system. Puzzles sadly don’t all follow logical steps, and the design in Yesterday Origins does harken back to the Golden Age of adventure games – where logic was often thrown out of the window – in a bad way. There are occasions though where hotspots won’t highlight intuitively and even though you know what you need to do to progress, finding the exact way to implement your solution is harder than it should be.
The writing veers from comedy to tragedy and violence at the drop of a hat – sometimes within the same sentence, and some of the puzzles suffer because of this – as players simply won’t be prepared for some of the outlandish solutions required. The indecisive style of the writing leads to a real mixed bag of voiceover work. Too often characters appear bipolar – speaking in a drab and disinterested way during exciting situations, or being far too animated when it is also unwarranted. The voice acting certainly makes it harder to connect with many characters, who feel difficult to relate to, or just downright irritating. What makes this more sad, is that the rest of the sound design is strong – where every location in the story is accented by original music that complements the tone and atmosphere very effectively.
The background art is also highly detailed and helps to bring each scene to life wonderfully. Sadly there is a clear style and quality clash between the background and character art. Characters are fully-rendered 3D models – presented in a quasi-realistic cel-shaded style. The problem is that they aren’t quite stylised or realistic enough to be either a strong artistic choice or photo-realistic, and instead fall into a middle ground where they just seem somewhat unnatural. The somewhat cartoony style also clashes with the often serious and bloody tone of events – when a more realistic choice would have been more fitting. The animation mirrors this feeling and is often stilted or over-simplified, which further adds to the graphical unevenness.
Yesterday Origins is certainly not going to win over new fans who aren’t already dedicated to graphic adventures. There is very little on offer that hasn’t been seen already in every other point and clicker that has come out over the last decade, and the inconsistent style and tone would likely put off many players as they try to persevere through. The premise and variety of locales however do make exploration interesting for those who can forgive its faults, and this is far from a bad game – just one that could have benefited from a more focused design approach.