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Estelle stands in a field of poppylike plants in Season: A Letter to the Future, with a thought bubble above her head saying, “Life listens and then it does what it wants.” Image: Scavengers Studio via Polygon

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Season: A Letter to the Future is one of the best games I’ve played in years

Cycling, photography, and exploration converge in a pre-apocalyptic story

“When a dream crawls back out of your throat, it hurts,” says Maytora, an elderly woman hiding away from the world in a forest. She faces mandatory evacuation ahead of a looming disaster, and she seems almost relieved to leave behind the junk sculptures she’s painstakingly made throughout her life — to shed the burden of an unrecognized artist. But then I tell her I’d like to photograph them, so that they live on in a museum vault for future generations. She becomes giddy, then sighs as she reflects on her artistic regrets. Yet she’s surely more alive than she’s been in years.

Scavengers Studio’s Season: A Letter to the Future is about those moments when we’re most alive. As protagonist Estelle leaves home for the first time, she’s captivated by the sights and people of Tieng Valley, alive and hurting and transforming as they face the threat of an incoming cataclysm. The 10-hour journey consistently left me speechless and overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

The gameplay loop in Season consists of taking pictures and recording the sounds of the world around you, amassing your collection of observations in the pages of a journal. At times, these pages guide you toward solving scripted mysteries — but most of the time, you’re filling out these pages simply to learn about the game world on your own terms. When you complete a page, you’ll find out more about Tieng Valley, Estelle, and this strange world perpetually shaped and reshaped by smaller-scale apocalypses, which mark the various eras, otherwise known as “seasons.” It’s Estelle’s job to document the world as we know it in the current season, so that its history lives on in the next. That world is stunning, filled with mysteries that expertly pull you toward a litany of beautiful moments and locales.

Estelle talks to Maytora, an artist hiding in the woods in Season: A Letter to the Future, with a dialogue option saying, “What magic might be hiding in this day which will pas and never return?” Image: Scavengers Studio via Polygon

Similar beauty is present in Season’s writing, which consists of some of the most gorgeous prose I have encountered: Sentences are deeply poetic, flowing seamlessly like the passage of time. A poem at the beginning of the game left me so stunned that I needed to pause in order to fully process it. Characters speak about loss, regret, and loneliness — combined with the core loop of exploration, photography, and journaling, these moments weave a tapestry as melancholic as it is engrossing. You can physically sense its beauty as well, when the DualSense controller vibrates as you bike on gravel or record and play melodies and innocuous noises.

My gripes with Season are so minimal as to be inconsequential. I didn’t enjoy having to constantly toggle the sprint button after I took my camera out or quickly interacted with something. The HUD image reminding you how to accelerate your bike is also intrusive, taking far too much space away from the stunning world (though this default setting can be turned off). Lastly, the story would work just as well without a ham-fisted plot point about time-related diseases.

But these nitpicky issues pale in comparison to Season’s potent sense of place, and the story it mines from this vibrant little valley. This beautiful project emerged from the workers at Scavengers, despite reports of toxic leadership that arose in 2021. They have created something wonderful and thought-provoking despite reported conditions no one should have to endure.

Estelle riders her bicycle down an overgrown cobblestone path in Season: A Letter to the Future Image: Scavengers Studio via Polygon

After spending a lifetime trying to control everything and never reaching the artistic heights she desired, Maytora decides to relinquish control when it comes to choosing the items that will represent Tieng Valley in Estelle’s journal. “Let’s follow our intuition, gather some pieces, and see what happens,” she says. “What magic might be hiding in this day which will pass and never return?”

Season is your journey of finding that ephemeral magic and making it permanent. Even as we stand outside in the rain, waiting for god or whoever is behind that door to let us inside, there is no other day exactly like today and there never will be again — and that alone makes it worth cherishing. Season is about every little thing we can value in a life as fleeting as the seasons, and it’s one of my favorite games in years.

Season: A Letter to the Future will be released on Jan. 31 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by Scavengers Studio. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.