Yesterday's gritty, gutsy style makes us excited for tomorrow

Welcome to the Renaissance.

The point-and-click adventure is back and it has nothing to do with Tim Schafer, Double Fine or Kickstarter. This particular revolution is being led by Pendulo Studios' gritty, stylized PC thriller, Yesterday, which marks a departure from the developer's previous title, The Next Big Thing, in a few crucial and exciting ways:
  • Yesterday is not a comedy, though the dialogue retains a brilliant wit.
  • It has nothing to do with the film industry.
  • It involves the psychological analysis of a homeless man who believes his son, who was definitely killed in a tragic subway-tunnel collapse, is still alive.
Maybe you have to be just as disturbed as Pendulo's fictional homeless man to really appreciate that last one, but if you are -- boy is it a treat.

Pendulo has a solid track record in the point-and-click adventure genre -- they liked it before it was cool, even -- with the Runaway series and The Next Big Thing, but the studio had something to prove when it boldly announced that it was giving up comedy to offer an original, dark thriller with Yesterday. The game retains Pendulo's trademark art style, exaggerated features and colors that appear hand-painted over 3D models, and it is just as appealing as it was in 2003. This time around, however, not just the story is darker, but the palate is as well, with much of what I played taking place in a derelict, abandoned subway channel (I bet you can guess which one).

The space could have been limiting. It could have felt dank and claustrophobic, destroying any desire to explore any of its confined spaces. But it wasn't. The crumbling subway station felt full of mystery for such a relatively tight space, stuffed with mannequins, broken pedestrian wares, boxes of stuffed animals and other children's toys; plenty for the characters, including main protagonist Henry White, to pick up, combine and break.

Henry himself is an intriguing character -- a veritable nerdy, ginger genius and heir to a large fortune, he volunteers for a charity that helps homeless people in New York City. He and his blundering-giant friend, Sam Cooper, set out to investigate a series of strange disappearances within the "home challenged" community, possibly connected to the strange Y-shaped scars that are appearing on random people's palms.

Physically, Henry appears harmless, with bright orange hair, freckles and thick-rimmed glasses, but his intelligence gives way to a darker side that may belie more than mere cockiness, especially when compared with the delusions of the game's other, textbook-psychotic characters.

There are three playable characters in Yesterday -- Henry, Cooper and John Yesterday, a man with no memory -- but I only had the chance to play as Henry and Cooper. The puzzles were engaging without being obvious, calling on the player to see each item in different ways, and at times asking for patience and deep contemplation. Most of them I solved in five minutes or less, but a few had me stumbling around the subway station for 10, 15 minutes at a time, wondering how on Earth I was supposed to combine a purple plastic piano and an action figure to make a phone call from a busted payphone. I assure you, it is possible.

Pendulo knows how to make a point-and-click adventure though, and quality puzzles are to be expected. Where Yesterday really shines is in its promise to be a dark thriller.

In the subway channel I met Choke, a homicidal madman with a messiah complex who leads a congregation of surprisingly lively mannequins, as well as the distraught homeless man. Choke is almost mystical, magical, and is just as intelligent as Henry, contributing to the questions about our protagonist's own sanity. Choke vows to kill Henry, but in a series of events involving Cooper's background as a failed boy scout, Yesterday gets gritty.

Henry is forced to discuss the details of the homeless man's former, financially successful life, and watch as he replays receiving the phone call about his son's death, over and over and over, and his thoughts often trailing off into heart-breaking "happy birthday" wishes. One f-bomb and a dick stomp later, and the playable time ended on a cliffhanger that left me aching to play more.

Yesterday confronts death, greed, loss and insanity all within one crumbling subway station; imagine what the rest of the game might encompass.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.