You think you know Pendulo Studios? Far from the quirky comedic styling of Runaway, imagine a backdrop of a dingy wall covered with Latin verses, photos of violent tortures, and disturbing graffiti about alchemy and Satanism juxtaposed by some chillingly cheerful whistling. Then a staccato buzzing of flies as the scene zooms out amidst jarring cuts of hideous faces to reveal a ritual circle beset with candles and drenched in blood. The sounds merge idly with the thumping of a terrified heart, until the cacophony is overwhelmed by a scream of agony, leaving you to imagine the worst. This macabre prelude into Yesterday makes it immediately obvious that you're beginning a trip into the gruesome machinations of depraved minds. Clearly this is Pendulo like we’ve never seen the Spanish studio before, though it has many of the other fine qualities we’ve come to expect. Fantastically illustrated and capably voiced, Yesterday hosts a mélange of easy but engaging and evenly-spaced inventory-based quests. While progress is very linear, the game is never perfunctory; the often-baffling but always-intriguing story spurs your curiosity by skipping across time and teasing out morsels of clues at regular intervals, yet holds back just enough at each twist to keep you guessing until the troubling, multi-outcome conclusion.
The story actually starts a year earlier, at the New York office of the French organisation Les Enfants De Don Quichotte (The Children of Don Quixote), whose priority is the welfare and rehabilitation of the homeless. Les Enfants is a real entity and the game is dedicated to them; the first chapter, set in a grim, abandoned subway station, forces you to reluctantly confront the profound risks which the homeless must undertake daily to find shelter or at least scattered moments of peace. A serial killer has been murdering the city's vagrants, and while the chief of Les Enfants is worried about the safety of her crew, she can ill-afford to suspend operations even briefly. And so we meet two of the three leads, the nerdy Henry White, a steadfast volunteer, and his loyal friend, the dim but devoted Cooper, as they continue their forays to help the homeless, but a nightmarish run-in with a raving fanatic at the station destroys their idealism and innocence forever. It doesn't, however, derail Henry's altruism; when he eventually takes over one of America's largest corporations after the death of his parents, he continues his philanthropic ways in helping the less privileged.
Henry has also been researching Satanic cults, whom he suspects are behind the murders based on the strange 'Y' carved into the palms of the victims, supposedly the insignia of a medieval religious order. He'd recruited an expert on the matter, John Yesterday, and sent him to Paris to investigate further, but John had inexplicably attempted suicide in his hotel room. When the game later introduces John as the third protagonist, he's an amnesiac with no inkling of his past. John returns to Paris to complete his investigation, which sets the dominoes tumbling as objects and events trigger flashbacks that reveal the truth about his near-death experience, and raise serious questions about his own complicated history.
From this point, we follow John as he tries to piece together lost secrets about both himself and his mentor, linking them far more intrinsically than their superficial professional association. John's investigation takes him from Paris back to New York, and eventually to a destroyed church in Scotland, the seat of the Satanic cult in the fifteenth century, and amidst the disorienting revelations and continued attempts on his life, he must also deal with a returning – and not entirely wholesome – sense of self, as well as feelings for the girl he was dating before he lost his memory.
Yesterday takes place across not only diverse locations but eras as well, jumping abruptly from one to another: one moment you may be powering down a generator in a warehouse; the next you’re trying to grow truth flowers at an isolated mountaintop retreat. Initially confounding, this disjointed narrative format grows slowly but surely on you, giving you glimpses of the protagonists' histories at various points – just enough to clue you into their evolution and motivations, yet keeping the ultimate facts out of reach, like the fragments of a dream you can't quite piece together. Despite a couple of inconsistencies of timelines, the dark and complicated tale efficiently blends centuries and continents, myths and truths, grim realities and manic delusions, and garnishes the potpourri with a hint of the supernatural.
No one is what they seem to be, but the worst dichotomies are reserved for Henry and John, both extreme paradoxes of virtue and villainy. Henry starts as a stereotypical nerd with thick glasses, braces, sleeveless sweater, and awkward social skills despite his influential background, but cleans up nicely as the subtly unhinged but suave owner of his familial conglomerate. Initially distraught John eventually reveals impressive martial arts skills as well as a soft romantic core, but his biggest contribution is the matter-of-fact way in which he goes about unraveling the mind-blowing case, which might have made a lesser man wish for amnesia.
Both are supported by reliable associates: Henry has longtime loyal buddy Sam Cooper, an orc-ish misfit in a letter jacket who's yet to get over the humiliation dished out to him by his nemesis, an obnoxious boy scout leader, while John has his spiritual guru, a blind hermit named Olhak Adirf (in a strangely backhanded compliment to the famed Mexican painter), who spews self-confessed pseudo-mystical crap in an exaggerated Indian accent and provides most of the sparse humour in this otherwise decidedly morbid game with his odd repartees. There's also Choke, an aged fanatic who presides over an army of mannequins and conducts inquisitions of people who stumble into his underground lair; and Albert, the affable but irrepressibly sleazy concierge of the Parisian hotel, who define two distinct dimensions – dangerous and ridiculous – of creepiness. John's girlfriend, feisty Victoria Beckham-lookalike French belle Pauline Petit, unfortunately has little to do barring her momentary turn as part of the insipid and half-baked romance, an ornamental addition that's possibly the weakest link of the story. At the other end of the spectrum is the powerful cameo of Boris, a stockbroker-turned-batty hobo whose cheerful chatter alternates with touching distress at having missed his son's birthday party the fateful day he was killed at the station.
Yesterday keeps its gameplay simple and well-oiled, though you may need a bit of practice with the peculiar mechanics of hotspot usage and inventory selection. You can create four separate games, but within each one your progress is saved automatically as checkpoints, all of which remain available to replay if you wish. Each chapter comprises four or five interlinked screens, with just as many hotspots in each, including non-essential elements. You play occasionally as Henry and Cooper, but mostly as John – who, as the namesake of the game, has the meatiest role. An interesting segment has Cooper using some items previously used by Henry to salvage a situation, and his brute strength allows him a whole different approach to the quests as opposed to brainiac Henry's intelligent solutions. A similar rationale is applied during the finale, which allows you to choose any of the three protagonists, and your choice decides the ultimate outcome out of three different scenarios. Apparently a fourth ending is possible, though I didn't encounter an obvious means of triggering it.Continued on the next page...