Part of me really, really wants to love Bientôt l’été. It’s a game that displays an anarchic disregard for traditional ideas of what a game should be. There aren’t objectives beyond exploration and experimentation, and there doesn’t seem to be any set victory conditions. There’s no linear path to follow to a conceived ending, so the game’s probably best described as a limited sandbox since there’s only two spaces with which to experiment.
The first of these sections is a beach, where your avatar (man or woman – your choice) dressed head to toe in white garments can walk from one end to the other. You can perform some various, mundane actions, like observing a cherry blossom or traversing a boardwalk. You’re awarded for accomplishing these activities with a chess piece that falls from the skies. But that’s the extent of what you can do here. If you try to leave the beach, you’ll run into an invisible wall.
One of the more interesting features of Bientôt l’été is the ability to close your avatar’s eyes and see the beach presented to you as blue, purplish cyberspace of wires and circuits. But activating this mode doesn’t really grant anything besides the ability to run and instantly reach the aforementioned activities and the game’s other section, a chateau where you have the option to play an odd game of chess with either a real human being or an AI. Ideally, the game is meant to be played with another person, but I never managed, in the twelve plus times I attempted to do so, to play a game with another human being. I waited several times for a partner to pop up, but no one ever showed, so I was forced to use the AI partner to play.
You don’t play an actual game of chess as much as you’re just goofing around with the chess pieces you’ve collected on the beach. You and your opponent randomly move these pieces around the board while you each arbitrarily quote lines from Marguerite Duras’ Moderato Cantabile (a French novel) while sipping wine and smoking cigarettes. It’s all rather dull, which is unfortunate considering that the chess match is easily one of Bientôt l’été’s more interesting features. This and the beach section are the extent of the entire game.
I’ve played Bientôt l’été several times now in order to try and understand its purpose. I know that on some level it exists to serve as evidence to the whole ‘games can be art’ argument but that doesn’t automatically give it pass for its numerous flaws. Bientôt l’été is actually a pretty poor game because it comes off as intellectual masturbation more than anything else. Almost everything there is to admire in this game has nothing to do with what’s actually inside of it, but the assumed attitude of the creators behind the lack of clearly defined objectives, narrative and fun. Of course, part of that is purposely thematic. Life is boring, something that French films and literature have grappled with. But doggedly pursuing that theme is probably what hurts Bientôt l’été the most. The game quickly loses all interesting qualities and replaces them with tedium.
A game doesn’t have to be fun to be a quality title. Both Cart Life and Journey are worthwhile experiences that aren’t necessarily ‘fun’, but they’re engaging on several different levels, and that’s where this game stumbles and crashes headlong into a brick wall. I can take away fond memories from both of those titles. All I’ll remember about Bientôt l’été is that it made a bunch of jokes about French culture and I wanted to stick a power drill up my nose and scramble my brains the entire time.
So is Bientôt l’été a complete failure? Not necessarily. There are some interesting ideas on display here, such as the existential chess match, but they’re both half-baked and bizarre. The only real compliment I can give the game that doesn’t come with a disclaimer is that for a cheap indie title it looks pretty good. The beach in particular is a nice sight. I was also pleasantly surprised to experience no bugs or glitches during my playthrough but, then again, we are talking about a tiny game space, so that isn’t exactly a whopper of an achievement; a comment that can, sadly, be extended to the rest of the game.
- Reviewed On