Tale of Tales’ latest experimental non-game plonks you on a serene beach with floating words, strange apparitions and a café to meet strangers. It’s peculiar, sure, but does it work?
This isn’t the first time Belgian indie studio Tale of Tales have asked probing questions about what games can be. Their approach can be likened to thatgamecompany, in that their games aim to provoke particular moods in you, rather than give you something to beat or complete. Bientôt l’été may be their most radical (non)game yet and, while you’ve got to admire and value their tireless experimentation, I didn’t feel that it finds enough to replace everything it takes away.
You choose your avatar: a man or a woman. You then see them on an abandoned beach looking out to sea. Sentences begin to appear through the air and land on the sand under your feet. They read things like: “Come close to me.” “The moon was nearly full last night.” “I love you like it’s not possible to love.” “Sometimes I believe that to love is to see. To see you.” You can walk up and down the beach “collecting” these sentences, and while there is no quantified achievement in doing this, it does unlock them for use in the second part of the game.
Before that, though, you can wander down to either end of the beach to the end of the game world, which is represented by what looks like another sky but functions as a kind of mirror that shows your opposite (to whichever gender you chose) looking back at you if you get close. You can also “blink”. When you do this, you see the world around you as digitally constructed grid.
Blink and you’ll miss it
Once you’ve explored the beach, the only thing left to do is go into the one building that looms above the landscape. Inside you are seated at a chess board with a wine glass, an ash-tray and a pack of Gauloise cigarettes. The game then connects you with another player at random. You don’t actually play chess, though, you simply place chess pieces on particular marked squares and doing so will get your character to speak a line of dialogue that echoes the ones that floated towards you on the beach, except this time they are spoken in French. The other player can move a piece to respond and this goes on until one of you gets bored and leaves. You also have the option of playing a song from an excellent selection of classic ’50s and ’60s French chanson pop, smoking or drinking red wine.
When you come back out, you will find that the beach is much the same. However, you may spot a real world object on the beach somewhere – a radio, a boardwalk, a pile of coal, a magnolia tree – and from the blink mode this “apparition” can be accessed. Accessing brings about a strange twinkly sequence where you see the apparition as if in a dream. Once that sequence is over, you open your eyes to find the apparition has disappeared and your character will walk over to a particular spot and pick something up. You never learn what these things are but they are presumably connected to the disappearing apparition in some way.
You can collect some new sentences too, although it doesn’t take long to exhaust the pool available in the game. And depending on the time of day, you might also notice some strange things about the sky, though this is just as likely to happen by you blinking. What looks at first like the moon seems a lot closer than it should be – and then you start to realise it actually doesn’t look a lot like the moon at all. It’s all rather beautifully rendered and, along with the mirrored limits of the beach, adds an element of strangeness to what would otherwise be a stereotypically poetic European beach-side scenario.