Though three-dimensional and fully animated, the characters blend in smoothly with the hand-painted backgrounds. Most movements are fluid and realistic, including interactions with inventory objects, onscreen elements, and other people. Lip sync works better in close-ups than in the far shots, and characters emote extensively to enhance their dialogues with non-verbal cues. There are many brilliant in-game animations, like a Pulp Fiction-style fight scene; an eagle swooping off a mountain tor onto John’s wrist; Pauline sneaking about a shady houseboat in fairy-lit Amsterdam; John cautiously crossing a chasm, foot over foot, and thrashing about when blindfolded and gagged. Progress is frequently punctuated with cutscenes, and the sheer abundance of animation gives the game a lively feel. Thoughtful lighting sets the mood for each scene, as flaming torches cast wavering shadows on cold stone corridors, and city lights seep into John’s hotel room late in the evening. Intricate detailing of background elements like picture frames, cornices, carpets and engravings, and subtleties like distortion through glass, are constant visual treats.
This attention to detail is carried into the lengthy conversations, which are loaded with historical data, tons of exposition, subtle clues, and reams of chit-chat. Each dialogue set comprises many preset questions and comments, often branching into sub-topics or posing choices, though there are no consequences of wrong answers. In some cases, selections must be made in a certain order, deduced by trial and error, to yield the required response. The script is well written and adapted to the linguistic traits of the various eras, in choice of words as well as style of speaking. The colloquial dialogues are peppered with expletives and throw in some clever one-liners, but with the watered-down storyline and dull cast, the overall outcome is neither as edgy nor as witty as the original.
Speaking of the cast, the unlikely star is Ginés de Orduna, who, despite a regrettably truncated role, shines as a layered antagonist. He’s educated, practical, and fiercely protective of his ward. While he steadfastly drives his invaluable asset to fulfil his Machiavellian plans, he also nurtures the young boy, almost paternally, to be a leader in the scheme of things. Miguel does well to hold his own against assorted adversaries, ranging from enraged hogs to crafty colleagues, and shares a cautiously respectful bond with his mentor. His doppelgänger John is devoid of his fiery spirit, however, and leads a life as grey as his sweaters and coats. Domesticated by the bossy Pauline, the incompatible couple bickers on about their pals and priorities, and at one point she sullenly wonders if it was only the associated danger that had attracted her to ‘dull and boring’ John.
Crazy Boris returns to a meaty role as John’s bestie, and a couple of Pauline’s erstwhile hacker pals pitch in with convenient cameos. The rest of the cast is new and underwhelming: one-track villains Victoria Baxter and her power-dressed henchwoman Amanda; two smart-assy criminals; a much-hyped but blink-and-you-miss-her redhead from John’s past, and an assortment of monks and meddlers. Of these, only the sceptic jailer of the Inquisition and impenitent self-preserver Brother Botillo do justice to their roles; other side-plots and characters are randomly inserted and merely impede the pace at crucial junctures.
The voice acting veers between excellent and awful. Youthful Miguel bristles with just the right amount of impudence, while John is quiet and reserved; Victoria is on the mark with her blow-hot-and-cold businesswoman shtick; the ogre-like jailer surprises with his erudite baritone, and preppy contract killers Julius and Markus do well with their irrelevant but voluminous banter. Ginés again steals the show with his understated brilliance, be it his measured mentoring or vicious snaps, and is a delight across the ages. On the dismal side are irrepressible ham-sters Boris, with his absurd accent, and art thief Weasel, with her ‘mega’ awful dialogue delivery. Pauline has a nice voice, but still lacks any hint of her French origin in diction.
The music of Origins is chosen to complement the disparate times and locations, spanning dramatic, traditional orchestration in middle-era Spain; up-tempo jazz in present-day Paris, and hip electronica in Amsterdam. The tracks loop with lengthy interim gaps filled by ambient noise like crackling fires, dripping water, shrieking snowstorms and footsteps, layered with distant screams and ghostly whispers in ancient churches and abandoned catacombs, and the bustle of everyday life and traffic in cities. A lilting melody plays hide-and-seek with John’s memories and in a rare moment of quiet solitude, he plays it back on a piano; also haunting are the deep choral hymns echoing through the hallways of Santa Brigida.
Yesterday Origins wins big in terms of production quality, with fantastic art and animation, a truckload of stylish cinematics, sleek editing, a strong soundtrack, and at least some great voice-overs. The gameplay, however, is more of a mixed bag: it suffers from issues like the dim delayed-response cursor, and playing with a mouse makes the 3D interactivity significantly more tedious, but on the flip side it can be commended for the streamlined interface and tandem play. The inventory-based puzzles, while well-integrated into the plot, can be convoluted at times, but part of that is the nature of the genre, and part of it seems intentional to hike up the degree of challenge.
But while the game stays on the path mapped by its predecessor for the most part, it slips precisely where Yesterday scored big – on the narrative. Origins starts strong against the backdrop of the Inquisition, returning to John’s chilling past to trace how his curse began. But instead of exploring five centuries of intrigue and evil by delving into more of John’s ‘afterlives’, the game creates a parallel track of present-day mayhem to tie up loose ends and bites off more than it can chew. Meanwhile, the art sale plot is dreary and disjointed, crowded with forgettable characters who soak up precious screen time. John and Pauline have zero chemistry and seem to bring out the worst in each other; Ginés and Miguel are the true core of this show. Opting for a more caper-ish vibe dilutes the darkness, and instead we get a vanilla version of the unapologetically disturbing Yesterday. That said, though the sequel doesn’t measure up to the standards of its predecessor, for those willing to take the bad with the good, it is still sleek and eminently playable if you have some time to kill.