I don’t know how to start this review, and to be perfectly frank I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about this game. All I can say is that is was a hell of an experience, and while Yesterday is very much not the type of game I would normally chose to play, I’m mostly glad I did. Mostly. Check back with me in a few days when I’ve calmed down enough to get a good night’s sleep.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am a wimp when it comes to scary things. Fortunately for this review, I am also something of a masochist in this respect. My favorite TV show is Supernatural, after all. Yesterday is the brainchild of Pendulo Studios, in a complete change of direction from the generally lighthearted tone of the developer’s previous titles. This is an incredibly dark title, rated for more than just the fact that there’s quite a lot of cursing during the game.
I mentioned in my preview that the opening video scared me to death, being full of satanic symbols written in blood, lots of screaming and flashes of terrified faces every few seconds. I was actually unable to force myself watch the opening this time through, so it’s fortunate for my sanity that the main part of the game is not the same style of scary. There was no outright sobbing, mostly because I was too busy trying to focus on breathing as the story kept me waiting with baited breath.
However, I’d say that the type of terrifying Yesterday actually is happens to be a lot worse than your average horror-movie tricks. Without giving too much away, Yesterday follows the story of amnesiac John Yesterday as he searches for a modern-day serial killer linked to an age-old satanic cult. It sounds like it could be the plot of any one of the thousand and two crime dramas on TV today, but what Pendulo Studios has managed to do with this cookie-cutter summary still keeps me up at night, three days after finishing the game.
The story itself, as I said, is fantastic. It’s only near the very end that there is any sense of predictability whatever, and even saying that is slim at best. My biggest complaint about the story is the romance that serves as a motivation for one of the characters seems a bit out of left field and strange, but overall it serves as a small part of the overall effect. Of the three separate, easily accessible endings I played, (I haven’t yet managed to find the fourth hidden ending) two were what I would call “happy” and predictable, though with a slight addendum on one of them I still can hardly bear to think about. The last one is absolutely the farthest thing from happy, and has me wanting to curl up in a corner and hide from the world.
That’s actually what I find scariest about the entire story: medieval torture-cults aside, the true “evil” in the story is something that is out there in our world. Yesterday may be a work of fiction, but the fact is that crazy people who enjoy chaining people up in their basements and torturing them to death do exist, and for all you know it could be the billionaire philanthropist everyone respects so much.
Moving on to hopefully happier topics, gameplay is nothing great. It’s a simple point-and-click adventure, though it gets shaken up a bit by the order in which you play. The main character is an amnesiac, and the game has you play through his memories as he remembers new things. These are not always short and sweet. I got stuck so long in a Tibetian temple of the past I completely forgot what John was doing in the real world.
The good thing is that Pendulo Studios has made it really, really hard to get truly “stuck” in Yesterday. The only reason I was in that memory as long as I was is because I was being an idiot. You’re given two major tools to use in order to get through the game. First up, there is a hint button, and it always refills. You can never not get a hint. You may have to wait some time before getting another, but you will get one. While the hints never tell you flat-out exactly what you need to do, they’re not exactly cryptic either. There were many moments as I played that involved me smacking my forehead and letting out a loud “Well, DUH”.
Second in the helpful tools category is the hotspot button. When clicked, little bulls-eyes come up around everything in the current screen that you can interact with. It is truly impossible to miss something. The one time I get stuck was when I didn’t see one and therefore didn’t realize that clicking a centimeter away on a line of burlap sacks did something entirely different. (That would be the aforementioned idiot moment.)
The art style in the game also helps immensely to add to the atmosphere in the game. While at first it seems cartoon-ish and almost silly, the more you play, the angular style and stark shading start to add a sinister nature to the entire experience. It’s especially visible on the main character’s face. John Yesterday has a very thin, long, and angular face, that when added to the style of shadowing in Yesterday, makes him look gaunt and completely worn out. Add to that the fact that he is the only character who never looks directly at the “camera” in the dialogue pop-ups, but rather is always looking down, and there is a big sense of something being not right and ominous.
The voice acting in the game is generally nothing special, though I feel the actor playing Henry White did a fantastic job. John Yesterday speaks in a rather flat monotone most of the time, which, while what you might expect from an amnesiac, got very boring in no time at all. Many of the other characters had few lines, and didn’t stand out much. Henry, on the other hand, had a fair number of lines, being the second most prominent character in the game. From the beginning, I felt disinclined to trust the character. The actor had the oily businessman tone down, and as as the game progressed it got more and more crazy sociopath injected in the tone, until his last line in one of the endings. In this scene, he describes all the cruel, torturous ways one of the characters could get revenge on him, and he sounds positively gleeful while saying it. That was another scene I could barely watch.
As I said in my intro, I’m glad I got the chance to learn the whole story, even if it’s not the kind of story I’d chose for myself. If you’re into horror, especially of the psychological kind, I highly recommend Yesterday. It’s an experience and a half, and a very good, gripping story. It’s not super-long, as it only took me about three/three and a half hours to finish, but it’s well worth it.