Season review – atmospheric road trip game with a muddled message

PC, PlayStation 4/5 (version played); Scavengers Studio
A girl is trying to record her world at the end of an era, but what promises to be an emotional experience can often feel artificial

Exploration is a powerful motivator: no matter what kind of game we’re playing, we are driven by what stories, sights or characters wait around the next bend. Scavengers Studio makes use of that fascination with the unknown by making exploration the entire point of Season. You control a young, nameless woman, who decides to record as much of her world as she can and deliver her findings to a museum before the end of the current season, the term the game uses for its different historical eras. As she travels on foot and by bicycle, her sketches, audio recordings and photographs go into her scrapbook; the narration comes from someone reading that scrapbook in the future.

Season makes great use of its gameplay tools. Its camera comes with different filters and a focusing tool, which makes taking pictures pleasant. You have the freedom to snap or record whatever you want; even when you’re supposed to capture specific things to make sense of a mystery, the game leaves it completely up to you whether you want to engage or not, and for how long. Cycling feels great, and there is lots to see.

However, Season sees itself as much more than just a relaxing trip. You are out to create your own anthropological record of a world heading towards calamity, “the true state of all things” as the game puts it, and that is where most of the game’s problems lie. Our protagonist remains nameless and blank enough for players to project anything on to her – there is a scene where she talks about whether or not to record a story that she would rather keep private, but you as the player can force her to tell all at the press of a button regardless.

The world of Season, which is so crucial to its functioning, feels less like a real place and more like an amalgam of cultural influences scrubbed of their real-world significance. Here, Japanese shimenawa ropes appear next to Scandinavian architecture, while men in Stasi-like uniforms casually dictate behavioural rules via propaganda posters. Your character, meanwhile, is an onlooker, a receptacle for stimuli and little more.

Memories are an important theme throughout, but Season offers them up for consumption in an extremely gamified way: graffiti, undelivered letters, people who spill their entire life story to a woman they have just met. There are flowers that play music and store audio, just so you don’t learn everything through text, and documents with the word “secret” stamped on them in huge letters, left behind in the dirt.

Season’s unwillingness to paint the world in anything but the broadest strokes (“Internationalism was breaking down”) and penchant for flowery but meaningless language may have been influenced by a troubled development history. Part of Season’s development cycle was marked by allegations of workplace harassment and disorganised leadership, which became public in 2021. The game is enamoured with ideas of community and culture, but in appropriating real culture and removing it from context, it robs itself of its own message.

  • Season is out on 31 January; £24.99.

Malindy Hetfeld

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
From Lake to Metroid Dread: the most exciting video games for autumn 2021
Escape to 1980s Oregon, get stuck in an art deco assassin game or liberate a Caribbean island with the help of a dog in this feast of new titles

Keza MacDonald

23, Aug, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
A Space for the Unbound review – Indonesian school adventure has a fantastical twist
The story of Atma and his reality-warping girlfriend Raya demonstrates a flair for the dramatic and will keep you guessing right up to the end

Lewis Packwood

18, Jan, 2023 @4:00 PM

Article image
Shenmue III review – the ultimate nostalgia trip
Part Studio Ghibli, part Karate Kid, this long-awaited continuation of the tale may sometimes seem clunky and last-gen, but it is also thoroughly charming

Steve Boxer

29, Nov, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Assassin's Creed Valhalla review: cloudy with a chance of mead halls
The weather’s as bad as ever, but this smart, inventive and witty open-world game is a veritable Viking feast of adventure

Tom Bramwell

10, Nov, 2020 @10:38 AM

Article image
Fifa 23 review – EA’s final Fifa game bows out gracefully
Fittingly, this year’s final edition of the perennial branded football sim at last achieves its aspiration of enjoyable realism

Keith Stuart

27, Sep, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
Cult of the Lamb review – grow your own cult in darkly cute game
This eerie triumph is both a dungeon crawl in pursuit of heretic bishops and a society-builder where you build a legion of worshippers

Sarah Maria Griffin

02, Sep, 2022 @1:43 PM

Article image
It Takes Two review – joyful family adventure for socially distanced duos
Inspired by family-in-peril adventures like Frozen, this engrossing if didactic puzzler uses old-fashioned teamwork to great effect

Keith Stuart

31, Mar, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Saints Row review – a vast, ridiculous B-movie caper
With its wonky sets, dodgy cameras and bizarre plotlines, this reboot of the gangster adventure series is haphazard but joyful

Keith Stuart

22, Aug, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Rollerdrome review – skating as a bloodsport
Mixing the colour palette of 80s comic books with post-apocalyptic bloodlust, movement in this fluid game feels sublime. Until you get shot in the head

Tom Regan

16, Aug, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Call of Duty: Vanguard review – nostalgic warfare that takes us back to the start
A band of inglorious stereotypes go on a covert mission to uncover a Nazi plan in a traditional instalment of the series

Keith Stuart

10, Nov, 2021 @2:00 PM