Due Date: March 2012
Not having had an opportunity to play Pendulo Studios' earlier adventures, the Runaway games and the recent The Next Big Thing, I was eager to get my mitts on this short one-chapter preview of their upcoming game, Yesterday. I already knew Yesterday is supposed to be an about-face in tone from Pendulo's comic adventure style. I knew too that Yesterday is a dark tale about homeless people being killed and burned mysteriously in New York City, and about an even more mysterious letter "Y" that appears on the palms of disparate characters. And I knew that the central character is one John Yesterday, an amnesiac who gets sucked into this urban nightmare.
Playing the preview, however, I learned that the game has two other (at least) playable characters, Henry White and his co-social-worker Cooper. Henry's a carrot-top rich kid with a conscience, while Cooper's a hulk battling a troubled childhood. The two of them work for a charity organization called The Children of Don Quixote that seeks out homeless people to offer assistance. The preview consists of one chapter from the upcoming game in which our stalwarts search the dangerous environs of an abandoned subway station. First, you play as Henry as he investigates the foreboding tunnels solo, and then, after Henry runs into a little trouble, you play as Cooper.
From the press material already released on Yesterday I was expecting ultra dark subject matter, something along the lines of the horror thriller "Se7en." Pendulo, though, wasn't able to abandon their comic roots entirely and the preview plays a lot more like a soberer Scooby-Doo mystery. Yesterday -- or at least this portion of it -- comes across like a comic book collaboration between Stan Lee and Edgar Allan Poe. The graphic style is crisp and colorful and the mood and gameplay are, for the most part, LucasArts in feel. Its standard inventory and conversation-tree puzzles with loopy NPCs and exotic situations. Which, actually, I liked. I'm not personally a huge fan of gruesomeness. I like to be startled and scared as much as anyone, but Id rather not wallow is despair if I can help it. I liked Yesterday's mix of boisterous fun and creepy plot twists.
I was a little less enamored of the cartoon-panel psychologizing, in particular of Cooper. For me, these detours into troubled pasts were more unwelcome distraction than character development. One thing I was very impressed with is the gameplay. The character sprites move sprightly across the screen and pressing hotspots calls up a separate cartoon inset window that shows how your actions either make progress or not. This is a terrific way of getting around the age-old graphic adventure problem of dealing with teensy-tiny objects way in the back of the screen. Plus, it perfectly dovetails with the games overall comic-book scheme, including the dialog balloons. Even better, your third-person avatar sort of dematerializes and rematerializes to travel from place to place. This eliminates that other age-old adventure headache of painstakingly watching your character stroll across the entire screen. The preview offered sound effects but no voice acting. I presume the final game will have a voice and/or text option, but I frankly didn't notice the lack of it. I was also happy the game ran on my modest laptop.
I wonder if this preview is going to be released as the demo. Although perhaps a little longer than the standard adventure demo, it does have a slam-bang twisteroo ending that should pique the interest of more than a few folks. In fact, there's something, adventure-wise, so shocking at the end of this preview that I spent half an hour thinking I must have done something wrong. An action no major adventure game has ever let me do before. And that comes before the big surprise. Neither of which, of course, Ill spoil for you here.
Just how John Yesterday fits into this story, and where it goes from that subway tunnel, aren't explained, but Yesterday the game does look to be a rousing adventure. Game studio schedules are notoriously fickle, but I read elsewhere on the web that Pendulo is aiming for a Spring 2012 release, at least for the German-language version.
That a Spanish developer would first release its game in German no doubt speaks volumes of the current demographics of adventure games. Someday somebody should produce a game exploring the mystery of why the English-speaking world has so thoroughly abandoned the graphic adventure. Recording a game in a different language is a major undertaking and I do wish publishers would seriously consider releasing first an international version of the game, with subtitling for the "lesser" audiences like English. Those who care enough can wait for the full English-voice version when it comes out a year or so later, but those of us who just want to play the game will get our opportunity at the same time as the kids in Stuttgart.
Lastly, Ill append my now routine complaint/plea that Yesterday is, again, too easy. I admire the games compact interface, with its quiet control icons arrayed next to the inventory strip at the bottom of the screen, and I appreciate that the hint button keeps its mouth shut, but this preview offers little challenge to anyone who's played a few adventures before. There is a section that confronts you with several chess problems, until you realize wild guessing will get you through just as readily.
Yesterday provides a good blend of adventure game features that worked well in "yesterdays," as well as a few clever innovations, especially in gameplay. I'll keep my fingers crossed the final release also offers a toothsome challenge or two.