Yesterday review: Hit me baby one more time

Pendulo Studios promised Yesterday would be dark, gritty and just on this side of disturbing, and it most decidedly is. Yesterday introduces friendly characters simply to kill them off and it doesn't shy away from jamming bullets through almost everyone's head. It examines -- in detail -- torture, Satanic rituals and axes to the face, all within a complexly layered storyline about a young(ish) man's quest to find himself.

Yesterday tackles heavy subjects such as love, immortality, the Spanish Inquisition, BDSM, poverty and sociopathic homicidal maniacs, all accessible with a point and a click. The art style is lighthearted enough to support Pendulo's trademark comic relief while keeping the story moving forward in a serious way -- seriously fast.

I think I know where Pendulo Studios got the name Yesterday. It's not taken from the main character's name, John Yesterday, as most people would probably assume. It most likely materialized on the second day of playtesting, after Pendulo asked its testers why they were sitting around eating Doritos instead of playing the game. "Oh," they probably responded, "we finished it yesterday."

That's all hypothetical, of course, but the point still stands. Yesterday is short. In order to contain its massive storyline -- which spans centuries -- in about four hours of gameplay, Yesterday moves extremely fast. Luckily, the gameplay itself -- finding hidden objects and combining them with the environment in innovative ways -- is intriguing enough to keep players focused on the plot, which jumps timelines and perspectives enough to make anyone who hasn't taken their daily dose of Adderall say, "Huh?"

In a game where clicking is the player's only physical involvement, the psychological interaction has to be deeply engaging, and here Yesterday excels.

Yesterday is a character-driven story in the purest sense, where every interesting concept, surprise and twist comes directly from the perverted backstories and actions of a few key, playable people: Henry White, Samuel Cooper and John Yesterday.

Each character has a robust backstory, even if you're thrown unceremoniously into the initial interaction by accidentally clicking the skip button on the introductory cutscene. This is very easy to do, and I highly advise watching all cutscenes, especially this one.

Henry White is the genius son of a millionaire, and he's out to help the homeless through a charity organization, along with his dumb jock friend, Sam Cooper. On one of their missions, Henry meets Choke, a delusional man with a Messiah complex living in a collapsed subway tunnel, and Boris, a former business man who mentally snapped when his son was killed in the destruction of that very same tunnel. Yesterday's story starts darkly, showcasing mental illness as a bleak cycle of misguided memories and imagination left unchecked, with outwardly violent results.

Only once Henry begins to show his own sadistic nature does the player's definition of "crazy" begin to waver, and Yesterday reveals its true prowess as a story-telling virtuoso.

John Yesterday is basically Batman. We meet him as a man who can't remember who he is or why he tried to kill himself in a hotel room in Paris, and playing as John we unravel the shreds of memories that link him directly to the previous, psychotic storyline. John, flying on his friend adult-Henry White's dime, researches the Satanic rituals that Choke seemed to have been referencing in the first phase of the story, and as he delves further into his own past -- including a saucy love interest -- the madmen from Henry's past become more relevant than ever imagined. Also, John trains in martial arts with a blind master atop a snowy, remote mountain, which totally makes him Batman.

Players are given a reason to care about each character in some way, a feat that is not only remarkable in such a short game, but also necessary to keep interest alive.

Yesterday's world spans multiple countries, including America, India, France and Switzerland, and multiple timelines. Still, the mechanics of actually playing are inherently natural while retaining an edge of a challenge.

In one puzzle, I was playing as John and investigating the same Parisian hotel room he had supposedly tried to kill himself in. I had unlocked the first half of the room's riddle, but I was left with an envelope opener, a pair of scissors, pen and paper, a greeting card and no clue where to click next -- so I clicked everything. By the sixth rotation of the room, wielding various objects with all sense of logical strategy out the window, I felt as John might have: panicked, lost and confused, trying to figure out why I had attempted suicide, what the paintings mean and why the front-desk clerk was so absurdly obsessed with watching me have sex. Turns out only two of those things were relevant.

If you don't skip any cut-scenes and follow the story closely, Yesterday is an experience unlike any of Pendulo's previous titles, and one you'll be unlikely to forget, no matter how hard you try.

This review is based on review code of Yesterday for PC, provided by Pendulo Studios. It's available now on Steam for $30.

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