What happens when you marry Monkey Island with Satanism?
I typically play games on the train, and I’m used to adjusting my screen away from the prying eyes of curious onlookers. Some people are visibly confused by what is happening on the screen, while others are intent on expressing their disdain for a businessman battling Pokemon on his commute. Yesterday, however; had me diverting my iPad from my fellow passengers’ view before they could even get a chance to take a peek.
Yesterday is a mature point-and-click adventure game, one that breaks from the two paths that ‘mature’ games typically take. It isn’t gratuitously violent, nor is it overly pensive in its presentation of mature themes. The violence and horror that exists within Yesterday are essential to the story, but their shocking nature and graphical depiction isn’t dwelled upon or glorified. If anything, these dark elements are relayed with a sense of dark comedy. The game’s story revolves around murder, satanic cults, deep psychological issues, and adult relationships (nothing sexual, mind you) in a way that most games can’t manage without coming off as childish or preachy.
Taken out of context, however; a glance at many of Yesterday’s scenarios could certainly be alarming.
You play as a young man investigating the secrets of a satanic cult. Your involvement runs deep, and the many connections to your character are revealed as you unravel a mystery that stretches back to the inquisition. Each character in the game’s story is written with a unique and consistent style. I was especially impressed with the writers’ ability to portray insane characters, as they strike a balance between primal madness and a false sense of wisdom, while most ‘mad’ videogame characters are entirely devoted to one of the two. In pursuit of the occult mystery, Yesterday takes the player through musty antique shops, distant temples, centuries-old cathedrals, and abandoned subway stations.
The ties between the thematic elements and Yesterday’s puzzles run deep. Point-and-click adventure games generally focus on the acquisition of items from the environment, the combination of these items, and the use of these various item combinations to affect the environment and advance the story. Among its many scenarios, Yesterday will require the player to mix alchemical ingredients, solve chess riddles, and do something pretty amazing with a child’s electronic keyboard. The puzzles feel natural without being obvious, and the game’s design is smart enough to prevent player frustration.
Yesterday is separated out into several story vignettes, and at each point the player’s inventory is reset. This means you won’t end up three hours into the game and unable to advance because you neglected to pick up a roll of duct tape in the opening scene. Yesterday also has an intelligent hint system, unlocking the next hint after the player has tried several options and not reached the puzzle’s answer. The hint system was gentle enough that I didn’t feel as if the solution was always handed to me, and only once did I break down and Google a puzzle’s solution.
I want to avoid sharing too much about Yesterday’s story and puzzles, because if this sounds like your kind of game, you will also likely relish unraveling the plot and scenarios on your own.
Yesterday’s art style is well suited to its themes. It straddles the border of grimness and whimsy; the same can be said for the game’s music and writing. This doesn’t mean one can expect a visual masterpiece, though. The obvious lack of lip syncing during most story segments can be particularly distracting, and the in-game animation is mostly restricted to a few frames of walking. This isn’t unusual for this kind of game, and the effort put in to character design and environmental backdrops is obvious. Indeed, what struck me most about Yesterday is the apparent devotion to detail and consistency. Taken as a whole, the ties between the writing, visuals, and sound make for a compelling experience.
I haven’t mentioned what platform I played the game on, and that is because Yesterday’s interface isn’t unique to iOS. You won’t be tilting your iPad or iPhone or even using multi-touch. The tapping of one’s finger on the screen emulates the typical pointing and clicking of a mouse that gives this genre its name. I did also experience some technical hitches on my iPad 1. The game froze several times, requiring me to restart and lose a few minutes of progress.
Why then, play Yesterday on iOS? For starters, it is cheaper. Furthermore, the portability and tactile nature of playing on an iPad can be considered an advantage of this version. The whole time I was playing, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Yesterday is one of the high points of interaction fiction.
Yesterday is an engrossing and rewarding experience. I was surprised by its plot, intrigued by its themes and writing, and stimulated by its many puzzles. The game is brief, but long enough to feel complete. It is one of the rare experiences that I enjoy but also don’t want to see a sequel for. Instead I would love to see the developer explore similar avenues of storytelling, and continue to push the point and click adventure game into the future while retaining the old-school mechanics of its forebears.
Yesterday is available as a Universal App for $4.99