Bientôt l’été is charming, simple, and sweet
You are flying through a field of stars. You hit a key on the keyboard, confused. A string of words appears before you: “This is not a game to be won. Do not want or think. Just be.”
So begins the game Bientôt l’été — or in English, It’s Nearly Summer. The game then asks you to decide between a male or female avatar. In most games, this would be where the major choices end. But in Bientôt l’été, the choices have barely begun.
After you decide, your avatar is dropped on an ethereal beach, dressed simply in white. Seagulls fly around, waves lap at your feet, ambient music plays in the background, and the game provides a supremely calming experience. You can walk along the beach in either direction. As you do, the music changes from the simple, light ditties to include deep bass notes, giving an eerie feeling. The horizon then slowly fades away, revealing a sky of spinning stars and planets. Walk far enough and you will come across an impassable barrier — the avatar of the opposite sex staring back at you, mimicking your movements.
You also have the ability to close your eyes, which reveals what this world truly is: a hologram. According to the developer Tale of Tales’ description of the game, this is all taking place in an Intergalactic Holocom Transmitter II in deep space. This may be a bit weird, but the main point of the game becomes apparent when you turn around, looking away from the sea.
A little distance behind the starting point is a house, which you can enter. When you do, you sit down at a table with an empty chess board (with nothing but a king, if it’s your first time), a wine glass, an ashtray, and some cigarettes. The game then searches the Internet for a companion (someone playing the opposite sex). This other player appears as a digital apparition across the table from you.
This is the crux of the game: to have a simulated conversation with another person over a game of chess. When I realized that the conversation and small interactions that occur within the house were the driving points of the game, my mind was blown. Having a game with the purpose of establishing some sort of connection with someone you can’t see, playing as two characters who are — again, according to computer game developer Tale of Tales — deeply in love, and attempting to maintain a relationship across the vast expanse of space is not only a risk, but also a great artistic undertaking.
Being a self-described gamer, if the premise of this game was proposed to me directly, I would be extremely skeptical and would probably avoid it to some degree. However, going into this game without a firm grasp of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, the actual conversations themselves were random and confusing. According to the blog of programmer Michaël Samyn, that was the point. But in my experience, this mirrors actual relationships, at least to some extent (even though for some reason most of my dialogue options were about wine).
If you’re coming into Bientôt l’été expecting a normal video game, prepare to be disappointed (and probably shocked). Come into it with an open mind, expecting more of a calm experience than something to play and beat, and you will be treated to something remarkable. This is a prime example of an “artistic game” — something to be admired and pondered, rather than treated with a competitive mindset. As the game reminds you when it begins, it is important to “just be.”