This gorgeous Canadian painting game is a love letter to Montreal

"There's this beautiful outburst of life and solidarity and humanity in the city, and I wanted to represent that as much as I could"

In one of my most recent interviews, Chris Chancey, founder of Montreal indie developer Manavoid, told me that his team actively sought to avoid making violent games because there are so many out there. He put to words something that I’ve been thinking about for a while; it’s just so refreshing to see a developer make the bold decision to break the mold.

It’s for this reason that I was quite intrigued by Été, the debut title from Montreal-based Impossible. Here we have a relaxing painting game without any combat that’s actually set in the developer’s city. Amid big action-packed games like Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom LibertyAlan Wake II and Mortal Kombat 1, Été stood out all the more at Summer Game Fest in Los Angeles.

In the game, you play as an up-and-coming international artist who explores Montreal to bring together its artists into your studio. From a gameplay perspective, this journey is represented through a core mechanic that has you painting over blank 3D environments to restore colour to them. It makes the game’s luscious watercolour aesthetic pop all the more.

“When that narrative was drafted, I was meeting a lot of local artists and seeing how they were going through these different paths. And over time, we were trying to create a narrative in which you were bringing something to the world, not taking away from it through some central conflict. And so simply fostering a space for artists seemed like it was in theme with everything we’re trying to build,” says creative director Lazlo Bonin.

In this case, he was that theme to be about celebrating Montreal itself, the city in which he was born and raised.

Ete dev

Lazlo Bonin.

“I just deeply love my city. And I think the game being called Été, meaning summer, I particularly love the Montreal summers, because we have those extremely long winters that are grueling, I think the city really comes to life in the summer. And there’s this beautiful outburst of life and solidarity and humanity in the city, and I wanted to represent that as much as I could,” says Bonin, who previously worked in tools support for game development before wanting to branch out to make his own titles. “I just enjoy wandering and taking in the beauty of the ordinary little details of the city. And I want to show that in a video game.”

Of course, an indie developer doesn’t have a Rockstar- or Ubisoft-level budget to fully recreate a location such as Montreal, so instead, Impossible has been taking bits and pieces of the city to create “little diorama archetypes” to “really distill the essence of some areas.” In this way, it will have some recognizable landmarks for locals while also being inviting to newcomers.

Ete dogBesides the strikingly beautiful art style, I was immediately taken aback by the voiceover, which is entirely in Quebec French with English subtitles. It’s a bold choice, to be sure, and Bonin freely admits that.

“We’re taking a bet even just calling the game Été, a French word, with accents in it. But I think we really want to celebrate our culture — we want to celebrate the French language, the spaces in Montreal and everything,” he says. “And I think there can be an audience for this and we have to start trying — to build it and people will come. Someone has to take those steps.” He says he was inspired in that regard by fellow Quebec developer Parabole, whose 2016 adventure game, Kona, used an Indigenous word for “snow” in its title as part of its larger story about Cree people.

Ete sketchbookThere’s a lovely sense of tranquility in simply running around sections of Montreal and painting everything from walls and baskets to bikes and signs. To further gamify this process, painting in Été gives you little XP bubbles that you must collect to increase the potency of your brush. You’ll need that to be able to fully coat doors to progress, so it’s a simple-yet-smart system that encourages you to wander around and brighten up everything in sight. As an added bonus, everything you paint will be added as stamps in your sketchbook that you can completely customize and lay out in both 2D and 3D. It’s easy to see how one could get sucked into simply making charming little commissions for themselves, let alone what Montrealers ask for in the sidequests.

It’s rare to see Canadian settings get to play themselves in media, and in Été, the love for the game’s well-realized Montreal setting is infectious and felt throughout. I’m looking forward to fully exploring it with my paintbrush when Été launches on PC in early 2024.

You can wishlist the game on Steam here.

Image credit: Impossible