Through an intricate, thoughtfully crafted world and uniquely honed gameplay systems, SEASON not only delivers a beautiful message with its central mystery, but in the process, it also showcases a new evolution in environmental storytelling to help enrapture players in a powerful way.
SEASON: A letter to the future is the first single-player endeavor from Montreal-based indie team Scavengers. As a result, you won’t find many features or mechanics that typify the gaming industry in 2023. There’s no combat to keep you on your toes, no challenges of any kind, no objective markers to force you on a set path, and no rigid mission structure to push you along.
Instead, you’re simply dropped into a completely original world with nothing more than a camera, an audio recorder, a scrapbook, and a bicycle to get around. Through these simple tools, you’re able to uncover rich stories embedded in nearby lands, capture precious moments with local inhabitants, and retain key learnings so the next generation can learn from your experiences. That’s the driving force that keeps you going of your own volition. Not because you have to in order to tick a box, but through an innate desire to turn over the next rock and discover another well-kept secret.
At times a cozy-style game with calming sounds and charming visuals, at times an unnerving tale of clashing politics, philosophical beliefs, and disparate cultures, SEASON oscillates to keep you hooked from start to finish as you unravel what’s at its core through an unconventional yet deeply fulfilling method of environmental storytelling.
SEASON: A letter to the future – Key Details
- Developer: Scavengers Studio
- Price (PS5): $29.99 USD | £24.99 | $44.95 AUD
- Release Date: January 31, 2023
- Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, & PlayStation 5
SEASON: A letter to the future – trailer
Cycling through blissful lands at your own pace
As you break free from the training wheels of the introductory area, SEASON presents you with a vast open landscape. One in which you can choose to navigate in any number of ways, engage with however you please, all completely at your own speed.
You can stop to smell the flowers at a particular area for as long as you like. Or pedal fast and rush down the hill to see what unique story threads await around the next corner. All the while you’re able to document every little detail you come across. Whether it’s capturing an image of the sun setting across the field, marking down a particularly resonant quote from a local you just met, or recording the sounds of wildlife in the bushes nearby, how you interact with your surroundings feels exclusive to you alone.
It’s through this manual documentation that the experience truly shines. The moments you capture feel like they’re yours, as if the world was hand-crafted just for you to experience that particular sight or sound. Perhaps you snap an intriguing angle of some graffiti that others may have missed. Maybe you captured the sound of thunder striking in a split moment that others didn’t think to journal. How you choose to track each step in the open world seems wholly original. This then extends to your scrapbook, your collection of experiences throughout the game. Exactly how these moments are presented is entirely up to you as well.
One page could opt for a more serious approach as you list key quotes from an important figure in the community amid their own struggles. Another page could be more vibrant with stickers, shapes, and soundbites breathing life into a colorful display of forest wildlife, for instance. Everywhere you go, everything you see, you’re free to capture and share it all however you like.
It helps then, that every single frame of SEASON is as stunning as the last. The unique cell-shade-esque artwork makes every environment pop with its gorgeous color palette and exceptional lighting system.
From broad vistas with detail at a staggering depth down to close-ups of individual creatures, visuals throughout are simply captivating. You genuinely want to stop what you’re doing and take pictures of every little thing because the game and its wonderful style is just always so pleasant.
Every picture holds a secret
While the overall style and flair is yours to determine, capturing certain parts of the world is a necessity in SEASON, after all, it’s how you unravel the story. Rather than simply being a passive observer and shuffling moments around to make sense, akin to the likes of Sam Barlow’s ‘found-footage’ work in Immortality or Her Story, SEASON instead places you in a more active role where you’re directly finding pieces of the puzzle.
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These pieces are scattered across the vast open world for you to discover at your own pace and in any order. In a sense, it almost feels like an evolution on Barlow’s success with a similar method of storytelling, placing your right into the mystery itself as you navigate through 3D space and physically engage with your surroundings.
It’s through this manual exploration that you begin to connect the dots and piece together the overall narrative in play. Taking a snapshot of a particular monument, propaganda poster, or religious shrine can trigger certain dialogue, immersing you in that space as you learn of its history and note everything down to preserve its place in the future. Listening out for sounds near a lake may lead to a brief memory of those who once worked in the area. And collating enough information within a particular area will cue a scene to once more divulge key details and push you along the story path.
It’s all very methodical but the process never grows tedious. That’s achieved thanks to not only the captivating world around you, but the intrigue of the central mystery. It’s a secret you want to pursue, a story you want to hear, and an adventure you want to share with anyone that comes across your scrapbook down the line. To give anything here would be to rob you of that experience.
Now all of this isn’t to say the game is without its faults. There are still a few quirks and odd decisions throughout that hold it back from being a pure masterpiece. However, most are minor gripes more than anything. As a particular example, I found it extremely odd the protagonist remained silent in most scenes. This wouldn’t have been an issue if it were consistent throughout the game, but we hear our main character talking at almost every turn in moment-to-moment gameplay. This makes it all the more awkward when they suddenly become mute in emotional cutscenes.
On top of that, exploration can be a little clunky at times, especially if you diverge from the beaten track. Invisible walls, random hitches on your bike, and glitching through terrain all hindered the journey at various points through my playthrough, but obviously, your mileage may vary. If you stick to the core path, it’s likely you won’t encounter any of these issues as the vast chunk of the gameplay experience was flawless.
The Verdict – 4 / 5
All up, the credits rolled at the seven-hour mark on my end. SEASON didn’t overstay its welcome as some games often do, though conversely, it also doesn’t offer any reason to return once you’ve seen and done it all. As mentioned prior, there aren’t any checklists, you won’t find challenges here, and there’s nothing to collect beyond personal keepsakes for your journal. So one playthrough is all you’ll need here and if you don’t embrace a slower style of play, one where you really take your time to capture everything just right, you’ll likely finish the game in a few short hours.
It’s certainly not a game for everyone, but for those who do take their time to thoroughly travel the open world and take in every sight and sound, there’s a truly wonderful time to be had in SEASON: A letter to the future.