Developer Je Ne Sais Quoi, Umanimation • Publisher Focus Ent. • Release 2023 • Platforms PS, Xbox, Switch, PC
A dreary, rainy day sees cars stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Dordogne‘s opening scene is oppressive, which is a unbelievable feat considering it’s painted in watercolor. Who knew that, besides being delicately exquisite, the medium could also embody life’s weary heaviness.
Inside one of the wheeled sardine cans is our heroine, Mimi. Trapped in her driver’s seat, the busy 30-something has time to take stock of how she ended up on the crowded road out to the countryside. A vague and uncomfortable text demands her attention. Her Dad, stopping short of directly forbidding Mimi’s visit, makes it clear he’s unhappy.
Slowly, the important details reveal themselves. My grandmother is dead. My father cut her out of his life decades ago. And, for some mysterious reason, I don’t remember any of it. For these reasons, the matriarch’s passing might have gone unmarked if I hadn’t managed to obtain two letters.
The first, which the gameplay has me physically pull out with my controller to simulate the character’s movements, explains the writer’s belief that the family should keep the house located in France’s Dordogne region. My dad tried to hide this correspondence from me, which neither I the player nor the main character appreciates.
The other missive is from my maternal relation herself. Knowing that she was dying, she explains she’s left a box of memories for me in her home. I’m not able to resist discovering what mementos my grandmother packed away just for me, and I’m equally curious why I don’t remember the summer I spent with her at the house in Dordogne. Cue the traffic-laden car ride.
But getting off the freeway, the most astounding thing happens. Golden light spills across the screen, plants spring up along the road, and the world becomes a wondrous kaleidoscope of color. At this moment, I am certain beyond a doubt this game will earn a place amongst the most beautiful titles of all time.
It would be hard for any other element in the game to hit so high a note, though the storytelling seems like it’s getting close. However, I’m not entirely sold on parts of the gameplay. Some aspects are very inventive. I enjoy the system where dialogue options materialize in the air, some taking longer than others as if I’ve been thinking of more responses as time passes. Other mechanics, like having to manually turn a handle or move an object from place to place, tend to wear on me.
It doesn’t take long to discover how the trailer’s youthful Mimi comes into the picture. Lighting a candle to see inside the old house, I notice an old pen. The writing utensil immediately jogs my memory, thrusting me through a literal and metaphorical time gate. The cosmic atmosphere is once again brilliantly brought to life in the game’s signature art style. I open my eyes after a few seconds to find I’m a child, reliving the first moments of the summer I spent in Dordogne.
I didn’t play the demo beyond this point, but I know there is so much more to see and do. Dordogne made its way onto my list of most anticipated 2023 games just on the promise of its narrative and the beauty of its art. But having played it, there’s no doubt it will be a shining gem.
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