Tech reviews

A Letter to the Future Review – A Fleeting Farewell

Season: A letter to the future caught a lot of eyes when it was announced in 2020. Its striking semi-grounded fantasy world brought to mind the works of Studio Ghibli and its story, about a young woman exploring and recording vanishing culture as a mysterious cataclysm approaches, felt all too relevant at the height of the pandemic. Unfortunately, interest was overshadowed by accusations of toxic management at developer Scavengers Studio, mostly perpetrated by the company’s co-founder and creative director, Simon Darveau. Following an investigation, Darveau quietly returned in a reduced role, but the damage had been done. The vibes had been harshed.

Despite all that, the makers of Season: A letter to the future forged on, and the game arrives next week. So, is Season a memorable piece of art despite its turbulent development? Or are its charms as tenuous and fleeting as the last leaves of fall? Time to take this bike-riding game for a tour.

Season: A letter to the future casts players as a young woman named Estelle, who comes to believe a new Season is coming after her friend has a prophetic dream. In this world, Seasons don’t just refer to spring, summer, fall, etc., but rather eras that may last many years. The game is cagey about what exactly happens at the end of a Season – it isn’t an apocalypse exactly, as landmarks, relics, and even people from past Seasons continue to exist. Still, each new Season ushers in some sort of fundamental change in the world. A terrible war gripped the world during the previous Season, and before that, there was a Golden Season marked by widespread consumerism. The current Season you find yourself in is a dreamy, haunted one, with much of the land seemingly abandoned. With a new era on the horizon, you set off into the world to record details that can be shared with future generations.

The list of tools you take along with you on your quest is a short one – a notebook, camera, audio recorder, and your trusty bike. Scavengers Studio has been very eager to emphasize the bike riding in all their PR, to the point it started to feel like it could be a gimmick, but it’s actually quite satisfying. Once you hop on your bike, you have to pump the right and left shoulder buttons to get going and once you do, the bike has a nice sense of natural momentum. Good use of the DualSense controller’s haptics and adaptive triggers also bring the experience to life, as you’ll feel the resistance as you push the pedals and unique vibrations as you glide over different surfaces.

Season’s gameplay loop mostly consists of cruising down roads and paths until you reach a location that catches your eye, at which point you can hop off your bike and take pictures, record sounds, and otherwise interact with various objects and points of interest, many of which will elicit some sort of response from Estelle. Each area you pass through has a page devoted to it in your notebook, and you can decorate it with pictures, sound recordings, and sketches inspired by what you’ve seen. Usually, once you’ve collected and placed around five things, Estelle will reach some sort of conclusion about the area you’ve just explored and you’ll unlock additional themed decorations to fancy up the page.

Filling out your scrapbook is satisfying, as the art and sketches provided by the developers are really quite lovely. Season does a fantastic job of leading the player with interesting landmarks and environmental details that you’ll naturally want to explore rather than explicitly spelling out what you need to do. In that respect, the game reminds me a bit of Outer Wilds, albeit on a much more intimate scale.

The world of Season is certainly a sight to behold, most of the time. The game takes an Impressionist approach – if you focus on the fine details, you will see some smudgy textures and imperfections, but if you stand back, the vistas are gorgeous. The game generally runs well on the PS5, although I did note a few brief hiccups, perhaps due to loading. Glitches will occasionally intrude to break the game’s immersion, but I didn’t encounter any crashes or serious issues.

Season is initially fairly linear, with plenty of sights to see, but a relatively narrow path you must adhere to. Just as your journey is starting to feel a bit formulaic, you come to Tieng Valley and the world opens up significantly. The valley is about to be flooded and only a few stray characters remain, but they’re all worth getting to know. You’ll meet a young boy clinging to memories of a father whose grave will be left behind in the flood, an old artist questioning the value of her life’s work, a scruffy RV-driving monk, and more. You’re given a lot of freedom to explore the valley as you please and doing so will open up some of Season’s more traditional “gamey” elements. In addition to the normal scrapbook filling, there are several mysteries to solve here, including finding out what the vaguely sinister group known as the Grey Hands are up to and the true nature of mysterious purple crystals affecting people’s minds.

Navigating Tieng Valley can sometimes be a bit confusing due to a limited map, but for the most part, this is where Season comes closest to fulfilling the promise of those exciting early trailers. I truly felt immersed in the world of Season and all its little details and dramas when exploring this area. While characters all talk in the same slightly stilted flowery way, their concerns are very recognizable and human, and they occasionally deliver some truly striking poetic lines.

After exploring Tieng Valley I was excited to continue my journey, anticipating there would be more similarly well-developed locales to delve into, only to find… there wasn’t. Without spoiling anything, there’s only a short coda after you leave the valley, with the game abruptly wrapping up after only about 5 hours.

I realize Season is an indie game. Perhaps some content needed to be cut due to behind-the-scenes issues, but as games like the excellent Stray show, you can tell a contained 5-or-6-hour story that still feels like a complete, fulfilling journey. The early parts of Season feel like they’re promising something more, with certain things mentioned (visits to larger cities, taking your notebook to a museum) never being delivered on. Moreover, while the game touches on heady subjects – death, loss, religion – it doesn’t seem to have much to say about them beyond perhaps “these things are a part of life and it’s good to remember them.” Sadly, this Season feels like it ends on a not-terribly-satisfying cliffhanger.

This review was based on a PS5 copy of Season: A letter to the future provided by publisher Scavengers Studio.  

Products mentioned in this post

Season: A letter to the future

Season: A letter to the future

Season: A letter to the future offers plenty of moments of low-key beauty and, at its best, makes you truly feel part of a unique and enigmatic world on the verge of great upheaval. Unfortunately, the game’s abrupt ending and reluctance to make meaningful statements about the subjects it brings up may leave you questioning what it all meant. While an often-pleasant slice of virtual tourism, as a complete game this one feels a bit underseasoned.

  • Visuals are beautiful from afar
  • Unique, likeable cast of characters
  • Effective heart-tugging moments
  • Middle section bracingly open
  • Scrapbooking is satisfying
  • Visuals sketchy up close
  • Easy to get turned around
  • Wraps up very abruptly
  • Stiff voice acting
  • A bit buggy


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