Last Friday night I received the preview copy of Pendulo Studios’ upcoming mystery thriller, Yesterday. I’ve written blurbs about it several times before, so I was glad to finally see some of the actual game I kept mentioning, and see how it plays.
The demo ran for about half an hour, and plays essentially like a longer version of the “Escape the _______” point-and-click online games often seen on sites like Addictinggames.com. In terms of the technical gameplay, it’s not that interesting. Or involved. Yes, you can be smart and try to figure out the puzzles, but there are only so many combinations of items to cycle through. Even without the hints the game will give you if you ask, there are only so many things to try before you stumble blindly upon the right one.
During certain parts it turns to cutscene-based gameplay in which you must choose answers in a conversation. The game does not punish you for choosing the wrong answer. Specifically, while you can choose a wrong response, it always brings you back to the selection, so you will eventually have to make the right choice. For example, at one point I had to prove my intelligence to someone by answering questions about a chess game. I haven’t touched a chess board since 2nd grade, and don’t even remember the basics, so I was freaking out a bit. However, if I chose the answer that wasn’t correct, the character’s internal thoughts would tell me I wasn’t right, and would have me choose a different answer.
Gameplay aside, Yesterday has two things going for it: the art and the story. The two play heavily off of each other. Pendulo Studios has had great success with their previous titles, the Runaway trilogy and The Next BIG Thing, all of which are comedies at the heart. Yesterday takes a 180 degree turn from that and is the creepiest thing I’ve played in awhile.
Now, it’s no secret that I am a scardy-cat. I don’t watch horror movies. Scary Movie gave me nightmares (granted, I was 12, but still). Yesterday is built from the ground up to be scary, and not in the way you might necessarily expect. The very cartoon-like art style used in the game is inherently creepy to begin with. The shadows are very pronounced and darker than you would expect. Added to that the fact that the graphics are generally flat-colored, rather than the lifelike shading we usually see in games these days, and the whole effect screams of sinister things.
The opening video itself nearly had me throwing my laptop against a wall and running screaming from my dorm room. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest idea to play in the semi-dark when my roommates were gone, but too late now. It starts off with a shot of a wall covered in inscriptions, words and pictures, satanic at worst and unnerving at the absolute best. The “camera” slowly pulls back, revealing some kind of pentagram painted on the floor in what looks like blood. The only sound is a whistled tune. Every few seconds, you get a flashed image of a different person looking absolutely terrified. After 20 or 30 seconds, the whistling turns into terrified, agonized screaming. Some people might find it cheesy and laughable. I, unfortunately, am not one of those.
You start the game playing as Henry White, the rich heir of a company run by his father. He heads to an abandoned New York City subway track (what is it with these games trying to make me too terrified to travel around my own city?) in order to find out what is causing the disappearances and deaths of the homeless people in the area. Which involve them being burned to charred corpses. Instead, he gets bashed on the head and kidnapped by a crazy man in charge of a colony of the creepiest mannequins you’ve ever seen and his only slightly more-sane sidekick. This of course spurs your friend Cooper to come in after and rescue you. Cooper is rather easily frightened, like me, despite the fact he’s probably a football player, built like a tank, and could probably crush anyone who annoys him into itty-bitty pieces. Anyway, Cooper finds a gun, rescues Henry, shoots the psycho in the forehead (with a cartoonish lack of blood), and knocks the side kick unconscious.
The last few minutes of the game completely threw me and made me question everything I thought I knew about the plot. Remember the creepy whistle I mentioned in the beginning? It’s back, and from an unexpected source. Also, bullets may not be as deadly as they seem. There’s something really fishy going on, and I find myself morbidly curious about the whole thing. I may just be masochistic enough to buy the full game when it releases, just because I have to know what is going on.
Yesterday is not a game to play for stimulating gameplay. But if you want a twisting story with pee-your-pants terror (or maybe that’s just me), check it out. You won’t be disappointed.