How would you want to be remembered?
At the young age of 28, that’s not exactly something I’ve given much thought. But as I went through Season: A Letter to the Future, I found myself contemplating just that. It’s a weighty question, to be sure, but it’s one that Montreal-based Scavengers Studio handles with unparalleled beauty.
In Season, you play as a young woman named Estelle who must leave her secluded village to collect memories of the world before a cataclysm lays waste to it. What I appreciated the most about the game is that despite that outwardly dark premise, it also offers a refreshing sense of optimism. Rather than dwell on the doom and gloom of it all, you’re encouraged to celebrate life in the present, making for a thoroughly engrossing experience. That begins with your bike, which is your primary method of navigation. Through a rather ingenious use of the PS5 DualSense’s adaptive triggers, you alternate between L2 and R2 to start cycling, and inclines create increased resistance to the feeling of pedalling up a steep hill. While the bike itself frustratingly got stuck at times when pedalling near walls or tight corners, the handling of it is surprisingly immersive.
On your bike, you’ll ride through abandoned mountainous stretches and grassy hills, soaking up every bit of the lush scenery and stunningly picturesque art style. At any point, you can use your camera or voice recorder to capture your surroundings, and it’s through these collections Estelle monologizes her inner thoughts. Given she’s never left town, there’s a lovable wide-eyed innocence to these remarks, and I enjoyed hearing her perspective on everything from the gorgeous landscapes to different breeds of sheep. You’ll then be able to place these photos and recordings in a notebook through an engaging sort of scrapbooking minigame. In other words, you have to decide what to preserve, giving quite a bit of heft to something otherwise so trivial. Admittedly, this doesn’t change the final outcome of the story, but it’s still a thoughtful and even exciting exercise — not unlike putting together an actual time capsule.
These moments of isolation are actually meditative, too, as they create a sense of intrigue as to what’s happening in this world. Indeed, there is a mystery here — not just about the nature of the cataclysm, but of a previous war that devastated the land. In this way, there’s a good deal of environmental storytelling in Season; you get to see firsthand all of the ways people have managed to press on after tragedy.
Naturally, all of this only makes your inevitable encounter with a handful of villagers who are making their final preparations feel even more impactful. It’s through these characters that Season truly comes to life. Free of a ticking clock or threat of combat, the game simply tasks you with spending time with these people. On the whole, each interaction isn’t overly long, but still manages to feel utterly meaningful in terms of personal stakes. In one situation, I spent time with a mother who was figuring out which of her late son’s mementos to carry with her, which immediately created a tight emotional connection to her. After all, she entrusted me, a complete stranger, to weigh in on such pivotal decisions. Elsewhere, I came across a lonely artist in a forest and helped her make peace with her legacy. Each character’s tale is heartfelt in its own way, and I adored uncovering each of them.
In many other stories, such scenes could have been far more depressing, with characters wallowing in despair in emotionally manipulative ways. Season, however, resonates because it does the exact opposite. In sharing these quiet, intimate moments of warmth with the villagers, I came to learn about the resilience of a beautiful land and its people — a sense of spirit that will carry on no matter what happens. This, in turn, made my responsibility to choose what memorialize feel even more profound. Forget just sharing snapshots of the environment — what should I take forward those precious few moments of wonder and joy and human connection that I had?
Ultimately, that’s what makes Season such a remarkable game. Unlike most end of the world yarns, Scavengers wisely opts to avoid conflict and tension in favour of taking it slow. In so doing, it creates a melancholic-yet-uplifting atmosphere that’s enriched by the compelling characters that you meet on your journey. It’s a powerful, introspective experience, and one that I will stick with me for a long time.
Season: A Letter to the Future will launch on PlayStation 4/5 and Steam on January 31st.
Note: While we want to celebrate a quality game that was no doubt created by many innocent and hard-working developers, the work conditions at Scavengers should be acknowledged. In January 2021, GamesIndustry.biz reported that Scavengers Studio leadership was fostering a toxic work environment. Specifically, creative director Simon Darveau was accused of sexual misconduct, harassment and verbal abuse, while CEO Amélie Lamarche was said to have enabled him.
Following the publication of this report, Scavengers apologized for its lack of communication surrounding the situation and pushed Darveau to a non-managerial role but claimed an external audit “did not find the presence of systemic sexual or psychological harassment at the studio.” It’s unclear whether situations have improved at the studio.
Image credit: Scavengers