A traditional adventure game with a mature content advisory is a rare beast, so when I first encountered Désiré, which traces the life of the eponymous colour-blind boy from his school years to adulthood, I was intrigued. More warnings ensued, starting with the opening voice-over stating that one should not be too quick to judge this self-confessed repulsive saga, until my curiosity congealed into trepidation. Of course, no amount of caution can truly prepare you facilitate the process of defecating into the mouth of a hogtied submissive in a BDSM dugout, or adequately equip you to rattle sabres with a spiteful pubic louse at the dripping, gaping orifice of its origin.
Fantastically though, these sort of (mis)adventures involving assorted sexual shenanigans are not the most repulsive aspect of this game, defined by writer-director Sylvain Seccia as ‘a critique of the modern world and of the perverting nature of a consumer, profit-obsessed society’. More offensive are its incessant, pretentious and myopic denouncements of the soul-crushing ‘establishment’ of gainfully employed, law-abiding citizens who are allegedly too capitalistic to appreciate the finer pleasures of life. Like the joys of relentlessly stalking a passive coworker, peddling child porn to priests, lauding a friend’s penchant for bestiality, and the ‘harmless’ fun of privately indulging one’s paedophilia.
Almost obliterated by this tiresome tactic to shock-and-awe, along with monotonous monologues dictating that unless you concur with this unhinged worldview you are an exploitative boor, is a so-so indie game that spans many decades in its five-odd hour playtime. The monochromatic, pencil sketch art style is clean and quite striking in segments; gameplay mechanics are satisfactory despite some frustrating puzzles and heavy backtracking; and given the monumental volume, the text is well-written in the literal sense. But to truly enjoy Désiré beyond the superficial quests, you need to embrace, at least for the duration of the game, the extreme ideology of its narrative, and that will be a very personal matter.
The story starts poignantly, with a coloured cutscene of a playschool art class. A concerned teacher asks the melancholy Désiré why he hasn't drawn the sun as per the assignment. Amid his classmates' titters, he replies that he has never seen the sun, as it is always night in his head. As the canvas melts into grays, time skips to 1992. Désiré is now a precocious but troubled tween, struggling with his sexuality, taunted at school, disenchanted with his loving but busy family, and seeking solace in overwrought, imaginary conversations about how one faces the harshness of life ‘cruelly alone'. His victim mentality and tendency to deceitfully acquire whatever he wants is established in a tutorial task, where he tries to create a magic spell to win the heart of a classmate while blaming fate for his misery. But what’s cute in a boy becomes plain scary when he carries on his devastatingly selfish activities well into adulthood.
The game explores four chapters of Désiré’s life. As a student in 1992, he discovers the sweet taste of vicious revenge during the course of an entire episode dedicated to manipulating his classmates and catching a libidinous adversary in the act. You meet the boy’s family, whom he deeply resents for being too materialistic, though in all interactions his photographer father, scientist mother, college-going brother and two cantankerous aunts are warm and generous towards him. In fact, no one other than a token schoolyard bully gives him a hard time; most are neutral and some are friendly, but none are spared his mean judgment calls. While much prose is dedicated to Désiré’s bitterness with his life, essentially he is a poor little rich boy, spouting dramatic dialogues like, ‘silence is the most corrosive of acids’.
The story catches up with him next in 2003, after he has been pink-slipped due to his firm outsourcing part of its operations. True to form, Désiré rants against the business head for focusing only on profits, but also displays an absurd sense of entitlement and is dismissive of his coworkers. Misdemeanours pile up quickly as he obsesses over a girl and pulls out all stops to woo her – pimping out a colleague, getting another fired, blowing his sizeable severance paycheck on mindless indulgences, and almost attempting murder.
By 2011, Désiré is a full-blown sociopath, at war with the world, having decided that ‘the best form of defence is to attack’. His crusade boasts a one-point agenda: sex – all versions and perversions of it. Nothing else interests him. So you delve into the psyche of a lady who is dating her dog as she is tired of men, visit imaginary brothels, partake in graphic simulations with phallic candles, and witness the suicide of a sexual deviant... all while suffering hours of supercilious lectures. Then out of the blue, you’re flung to the Congo in 2020. However, you’re not the only one in a time-warp: the natives are still living in Livingstone-era mud huts with thatched roofs, selling animal parts, elephant guns and superstitious sundries. But even the time-space continuum cannot save them from Désiré’s virulence as he insults and cheats them before jetting back to France for a ridiculous act of religious redemption.
Besides the stopover in Africa, the game alternates between France and the black-and-white recesses of Désiré’s mind, with four to five areas per episode. The early years, for example, feature his home, school, psychiatrist’s office, a newspaper stall, and his mother’s lab. The second chapter allows quick-travel between areas via a subway map, but elsewhere you saunter about at Désiré’s slouching, slo-mo pace. No hotspot locator and some poorly clued quests mean tons of backtracking, and without the benefit of insta-exits to other scenes, you spend a huge chunk of time ambling across screens. While the location design allows for some free exploration, overall the game is linear and at any time you have only one or two quests. Right-clicking calls up the inventory, which usually contains four or five everyday items to be combined together or with onscreen hotspots. Yet despite the limited choice, it’s not always easy to figure out the matches given the oddness of some of the tasks, which leads to repetitive negative feedback.
Almost all quests involve exploiting others emotionally and/or physically, preceded by protracted but token arguments between Désiré and his righteous-but-useless moral compass. While he does spell out the objectives of each quest, you can miss these brief instructions amidst the barrage of text if you’re not paying attention. Each big offence comprises a set of well-organised mini-tasks to gather items and mislead people. These may be mundane, like finding a way to photocopy incriminating documents, or more insidious, like breaking into someone’s house and planting ‘evidence’ to frame them. A brief but interesting segment of tandem play between Désiré and a friend warrants a special mention as a rare moment of genuine camaraderie.
There are standalone puzzles too, like a game of noughts-and-crosses, a boxing match hampered by poor controls, a soccer quiz that drove me to query the obscure trivia online to bypass the boring trial-and-error, and a retro arcade game to catch falling crockery. Conversations have multiple dialogues that must be navigated in order, but you can’t tell if you have all the options you need to trigger the next steps as you can talk to some characters at any time on topics that may or may not relate to your quests. Consequently, you can get stuck, wondering what you missed and where. There are only four save slots, which may be too few if you want to save at multiple milestones.Continued on the next page...