A childhood memory. A sunbeam streaming in on a lazy day past gauzy curtains, spilling golden light across the floor. That’s Dordogne.
But like most childhood memories, more is happening beyond the pleasing art and breathtaking setting. Reliving forgotten memories of a summer spent in rural France with her grandmother, the protagonist, Mimi, perceives the shady spots in her sunny adventures as the stirring story unfolds.
Adult Mimi’s world is introduced with storm clouds. I meet her on her car ride up to the Dordogne valley where her grandmother once lived. The place, as well as the relative, is like a dream she has trouble recalling. It’s as if her relationship never existed, and Mimi doesn’t know why.
Going in expecting the glittering beauty of the countryside, this introduction is fantastically attention grabbing. A quick, text-based conversation with my father lays out what I need to know regarding my family’s dynamics and the developer superbly weaves the mystery of my missing memories into this revealing context. I was already eager to step into the gloriously illustrated destination to bask in its visuals, but now, I’m just as excited to follow the narrative thread to Dordogne.
The art doesn’t disappoint. And though there have been an overwhelming amount of dazzling games this year, Dordogne may surpass them all. Unfortunately, the game’s mechanics don’t quite clear the same bar. It’s not that anything is technically wrong with the gameplay, but it can be a bit tedious. In trying for immersion, I often have to perform a series of tactile tasks to accomplish something simple.
Highlighting this is my arrival at my grandmother’s house. To open the door, I have to guide the key with shaking hands into the lock, and getting this wrong means the key will fall and I have to try again. Then, I’m asked to physically twist the handle and finally, push the door open. All of which could have been accomplished with a button press.
On the other hand, sometimes I enjoy this level of tactile action. Case in point: making tea. I’m a big tea fan in real life and I had a great time selecting my leaves, pouring them in the strainer, and hearing the satisfying sound of a steaming kettle. The gameplay design intends to make players slow down and notice every moment. I appreciate this in concept, but not always in practice.
What I unreservedly admire in the gameplay is its emphasis on recording my experiences. Throughout the game’s eight chapters, I’m given a Polaroid camera, an audio recorder, word choices that will later become the basis of poems, and a journal to keep it all in. All of these trigger the flashbacks that make up the bulk of the game. As twelve-year-old Mimi, I run back through my days before going to sleep. As I fill in blank pages with my perspective on the world for posterity, my strange amnesia becomes all the more disquieting.
Dordogne‘s narrative doesn’t dive too deeply into darker topics, but hints of hard themes abound. The game’s final message boils down to: Take time to look around and be mindful of life. The sentiment permeates every moment of the short experience. It makes for a lovely, contemplative adventure players shouldn’t miss.