Season: A Letter To The Future Review
Seasons under my eyelids
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: everyone involved in the gaming industry really needs to sit down and talk about the value of artistic titles that lack any sort of substance. It’s easy to understand the genre’s appeal from both a developer and gamer’s perspective, but as a games reviewer, playing through 6-hour-long titles that commentate on societal issues with all the nuance and intelligence of a Redditor is the very definition of purgatory. These games are all well and good in their own right, but playing them more than once every lifetime is an exercise in mental exhaustion, because even though it’s great to look at pretty scenery, worthwhile video games need to provide more than set dressing for unremarkable narratives.
For better and worse, Season: A Letter to the Future exemplifies this issue beyond reproach. The game puts you in the shoes of a young woman who’s forced to leave her home village to document a world that’s experienced one too many apocalypses. Over the course of about six hours, you photograph various beautifully designed environments, interact with a handful of interesting characters, uncover the details of the events that caused the world to go tits up and ride your bike through a quasi-open world map.
And, to be clear, all of this is fine. For the most part, Season’s gameplay and graphics are good and also superbly relaxing. Taking pictures of environments that wouldn’t be out of place in a theatre play, using an audio recorder to capture the sounds of a unique civilians’ voices and riding around Chinese-inspired valleys is calming in a way that few games are. There’s a unique elegance to the game’s non-narrative aspects that easily invokes the same feelings you get after going for a hike around a secluded town in the real world.
However, the problem with Season, and generally speaking the genre it exists in, is that its story almost entirely forgettable. While the overarching plot is, as anyone who’s read The Giver can tell you, interesting enough to warrant a few hundred words on a Google Doc, the details that make that narrative are simply non-existent. The game, like so many others, tries to ruminate on issues surrounding conflict, memory and family, but it fails to do so in a way that’s remotely interesting or engaging. It’s possible to piece together scraps of information from the things you document into something resembling an interesting plot, but at the end of the relatively brief game, those scraps never transform into anything that’s really worth writing home about.
It’s worth noting that the gameplay ultimately suffers because of this, too. While listening to the pitter-patter of rain or photographing a beautiful sunset is intrinsically satisfying, it’s also incredibly easy to become bored of Season’s overall experience. Because there isn’t anything truly thought-provoking to contemplate in between the vast swathes of downtime between audiovisual recording sessions, the game as a whole could (and in our case did) make you more interested in what your eyelids look like than what’s happening on screen. It also doesn’t help that the narrative and its ending aren’t especially interesting, either, and it doesn't leave you with the same feeling that something like South of the Circle or The Last of Us Part II does.
As such, Season: A Letter to the Future just isn’t a game worth experiencing unless you’re absolutely desperate to play yet another pointlessly artistic title that leads nowhere but to an ending credit sequence. While there’s some enjoyment to be had in its calming and generally simplistic gameplay, and Season’s audiovisual components are absolutely on point, the lack of any interesting commentary on the issues that it clearly tries to discuss all but ruin that relaxation. Like with the recent A Tale of Paper: Refolded, and unlike Stray, the game is almost all set and no acting. And for a medium that’s built on interactivity, and one that’s full of titles that are artistic, interesting and thought provoking, that means Season is worth experiencing about as much as winter in the Midwestern United States (or any time of year in Stoke-on-Trent).
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