There's a puzzle early on in Yesterday which seems to sum up the entire game. There's a vending machine with a coin stuck in the slot that you need to un-stick. You have a variety of things in your inventory, including a screwdriver, some metal cut from a can and a plastic lanyard. None of these work, but each one you try has a separately written bit of text explaining why: they're too thick, too thin or too flimsy. There's attention to detail here: the game recognises that these are potentially valid solutions, but rather than designing around them the game instead offers excuses.
Developer Pendulo studios have made a name for themselves in producing old-fashioned but solid point-and-click adventure games. They're good at it, and know the genre inside out, yet they show a stalwart resolution not to challenge its conventions in the puzzle design. Finding the exact right combination of objects that the developer expected you to find remains the order of the day. Exactly how much that will appeal depends on your fondness for the genre.
In other areas, the game really does attempt to innovate and remove some of the most annoying features of the genre. There's a button you can press that highlights every intractable object in the area, thus finally ending the need to scan your mouse over every pixel in an attempt to find the one missing object. There's a hints system, where you can get a tip on what to do next, but have to wait a while before you can use it again, preventing you from abusing it. And Pendulo have finally realised that clicking on the other side of the screen and waiting ten seconds for your character to walk there is dull, and so he just fades out of one place and back in next to whatever you clicked on. It's an effect that works really well with the cartoon art-style the game employs.
Together these features streamline the game a lot. So much so that I finished it in under four hours. Released at £20 it's a budget-priced game, but it's still a little on the short side. That could be forgiven if it felt like the right length for the game and for the plot, and that's the huge sticking point here. Yesterday has a great set-up for a story, though to say much about it would be to ruin it. Nevertheless, it involves multiple player-characters, interactive flashbacks, some grisly supernatural elements and a great central mystery. Yet it feels rushed. The plot revelations come thick and fast, rarely seeming earned but merely stumbled across, as the game rushed you from location to location. So many games of this genre fall into the trap of dragging things out; Yesterday is so desperate to avoid this there's barely time to breathe.
The effect is exacerbated by the way the dialogue is presented. The voice acting is actually quite good, a rarity for smaller-budget games, and the text is presented in comic-book style captions that look really neat. But you can't turn them off. So short of closing your eyes at the start of every dialogue sequence, your eyes won't be able to help but read ahead, with your finger quickly following to click and skip to the next line.
There are other interface niggles too. To use an item on something in the game world, you drag it up and out of the inventory bar and onto wherever you want to use it. Quick, simple, elegant, smart. But to combine two items requires you to drag the item up and out of the bar, then back down onto the item you want to combine it with. Rather than just moving it laterally onto the other item. Awkward, annoying, tricky, stupid. Having a zoomed-in panel appear when you click an object is a great effect, but to then either examine or interact with it you have to click one of two tiny buttons in the lower right of the panel, often half a screen away from where your mouse-pointer was, even though if you click on an item to zoom in on it you're invariably going to want to take one of those two actions. Finally, while a small issue, the bug present in their previous game, The Next Big Thing, that stops the game working properly on certain dual-screen setups, is still present.
The art-style is an interesting choice - it's certainly a good looking game, and the aforementioned fading in and out of your character removes the need for much of the often awful animation that plagues the genre. It's an art-style that Pendulo have perfected over the course of Runaway and The Next Big Thing, but whereas they were light-hearted comedic adventures, Yesterday is an attempt at telling a much darker tale. As such, the art definitely lightens the mood. With more realistic art the game would certainly be much more bleak and disturbing: whether that would be to its favour or not is debatable.
Yet there's something compelling about Yesterday. While it only took me only four hours to complete, that was a single-sitting. I wanted to see what happened next, to see where the game would next take me, even if the puzzles rarely challenged me or made me feel smart for figuring them out. But with three of the four different endings being viewable just from reloading the last scene, there's really no reason to go back to it.
There's nothing wrong with short games, even at higher prices, but if a game is light on content, what content there is really needs to be amazing to justify a purchase. Yesterday is merely at the upper end of average for the genre, which coupled with its brevity is a real issue. It's an adventure game pared down so much that it starts to look more comfortable hanging out with the more sophisticated end of the hidden-object genre, the likes of Drawn: The Dark Flight and Dark Strokes: Sins Of The Father. With a runtime to match.
A good point and click adventure seems so far away