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.