“Season: A Letter to the Future” is Montreal-based Scavengers Studio‘s second major project and maybe the first videogame to feature a bike touring ethos. I was instantly enchanted upon first look at the game which featured a bike-riding, polaroid photo-taking, journal-sketching protagonist. In the game, you are charged with the task of documenting the stories and ephemera of a local valley before the changing of the season, an impending world-altering event.
First off, I never thought I’d be writing a video game review for The Radavist, so know that I’m super excited about this! I’m not a huge gamer, but I’ve started to lean back into what was a large part of my childhood. Nevertheless, I jumped at the opportunity to review a game that lined up with our interests here; a game where the main mode of play is documenting stories via bicycle. With winter properly set in for most of the northern hemisphere, now is a good time to play a game that lets you take cool photos of your bike in beautiful landscapes, have insightful conversations with the locals, and document your travels and stories.
The game starts with your avatar’s mother performing a ritual of distilling memories into a protective pendant. Then you are sent out into the world, to leave the safety of home. In the beginning, you unravel the lore of Dr. Fumio and your hometown of Caro Village as you explore it via camera and audio recorder. After piecing that brief story together you are led out of Caro Village and given a choice of three colors of mixte bicycles. With your new bike and the wind at your back, you strike out into the world. Home is behind, the world is ahead.
The style of the game is highly stylized cel-shaded graphics which are reminiscent of a less slick (indie developer c’mon) Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The world presents itself in mystical realism with characters that would feel at home in a studio Ghibli film. Soaring cranes and decaying highway pylons are obvious signs of a post-industrial world referred to as the Golden Season, which gives off vibes somewhere between Adventure Time and Horizon: Zero Dawn. The world is an amalgamation of places, drawing inspiration from locations all over the world, lacking a clear single place it is trying to imitate. I also appreciate that the main character is presented as androgynous allowing a broader range of players to identify with the protagonist.
I have to admit, this game does not seem to be intended to replicate the act of bike touring. The developers made a choice to explore the world via bike rather than walking or some other vehicle. I’m extrapolating the act of bike touring from the gameplay. When I go on bike tours I love to take photographs and hear stories so this game appeals to my touring sensibilities. The game allows a fair amount of exploration but lacks the massive open-world feel of many modern games. In that regard, the story may feel a bit on the rails for someone looking for their idea of an open-ended exploration via bicycle. The developers wanted to tell a story and that story is related to you via biking, photographs, recordings, and the deductions of your character as you document the world.
Interacting with the world is mostly done by taking photos and recording sounds. These snippets can be arranged on your journal pages for each area in the game. As a long-time lover of medium-format photography, I was tickled pink to be shooting in the square format in this game. The camera allows you to zoom in as well as control the depth of field. This is about the only way you’ll get to shoot a polaroid for under a few dollars a shot these days. I found the act of composing to be delightful as a photographer. While most games have a “photo mode” nothing has felt as dedicated and relevant as the camera in Season besides maybe Pokémon Snap. The audio recording was less exciting to me, but the 3D soundscape of the game is truly lovely and the recordings allow meditative moments to appreciate the nuances of space.
Season is a truly breathtaking experience, I was constantly in awe when I would pedal into a new area of the game greeted by an enchanting vista. Significant care and artistry were clearly put into the game. The voice acting is splendid and available in three languages (English, French, and Japanese). A large portion of the story is delivered by reading notes and messages left behind, but the moments when you get extended dialogue is a pleasure to experience. The story includes heartfelt moments ranging from creating and sharing art all the way to grieving a lost parent.
While Season will never replace the true act of bike touring, I enjoyed the playthrough as a photographer and bike tourist. I was left wanting more beautiful places to explore and photograph when I finished the game after about 8 hours. Still, overall I felt satiated with the experience. I’m already looking forward to playing again to see if there is a different ending due to some late-game decisions that must be made. Season is so thoughtful and beautiful that I truly recommend you give it a try. I absolutely love the ethos of a game whose chief mechanic is journaling stories while riding a bike. It seems to be as close as we’ll ever get to a bike-touring game.
Season: A Letter to the Future is available for PS4/5 as well as PC on Steam/Epic Games for around $22-$30 depending on the platform. I played it on PS4 and it worked well with some brief moments of lag, probably due to it being developed for newer more powerful machines. Season verges on the trending cozy game genre with its lack of weapons, stats, and things to attack. While the game always remains at a mellow pace, I feel it lacks some of the aimless wanderings that other cozy games encourage. You do have the goal of documenting all the areas of the valley to unravel the story, giving it somewhat of a quest-like structure. Stepping into this world was a truly heartwarming experience that reminds us to take our time and remember the stories.
I’ll be streaming this game live today over at my twitch stream from 9-12 MST. I also have some back-logged videos of my first playthrough there if you’d like to have more of a view of the Season experience.