In a dream, we usually know what is, regardless of however strange our surroundings may be. Proteus, a new indie title by Ed Key and David Kanaga brings us a world of tranquility and discovery, unique with every playthrough. With a placid air of mystery, we are allowed to surmise our own circumstances and meanings behind this increasingly interesting title. Still, that does not mean it may be for everyone, and that’s okay. Find out if you ought to give this experience a chance.
The creators of Proteus have recently sparked conversation in the video game community about whether or not their game is a game at all. Playing through Proteus, I’m not exactly convinced it is actually a game, but more of an interactive concept. Your eyes open and you are standing in the ocean. You turn around and all you see in the distant is a mysterious island. All that is left to do is to go forth and figure out what there is to see. There are actually no objectives in this game. Upon starting up, an entire island is generated, each one unique from the last. While they may be different each time, they still contain the same usual landmarks. Nevertheless, the constant day/night cycle turns the same island you have been on into something else entirely as time progresses, with a great deal of help from the music.
As an audio-visual experience, Proteus is a marvel. The smallest things and creatures can set off beautiful chip tunes to bring a strange harmony to the changing world and its inhabitants. The critters that often dwell on the island are like something straight out of Wonderland, my particular favorite being the group of these large birds that sing a tune together like some electronic a cappella group. They hop up, chirping loudly, and all run away as a flock of waddling melodies. It’s moments like these that make Proteus worth playing. This game actually succeeds in creating a lively, colorful, changing landscape akin to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, perhaps even better.
The graphics are no less beautiful in such a simple way. Pixels come alive in ways you seldom see in games, especially when a gust of wind blows across the island and the stagnant trees suddenly burst with a subtle life. Some creatures have real animal forms like squirrels or owls, but others seem more like the product of Lewis Carroll’s imagination. The discovery of the environment and all of its splendors is the driving force behind Proteus, as it fuels your imagination, hoping you will be eager to see what else lies in store.
If there can be any goal that can be found in this game, it is probably to find this vortex of lights that appears every evening somewhere on the island. Upon reaching it, time flows quicker than ever and the seasons change. Once, I was transported to what I eventually deciphered as winter. However, I first spawn near the top of a hill looking over the rest of the island, to find nothing but sinister smog over the land, dead trees, and what seemed like sand. Even the music changed from small synthesized harmonies to an eerie sort of tone. The once vivid world filled with life was now a wasteland. In that moment, I saw that there was more to Proteus than meets the eye. Eventually, upon further exploration, the falling soot and sandy ground turned into pearly-white snow. As the evening progressed, I even began to fly for no apparent reason; it gave me a new perspective on the island I had now grown fairly familiar with. At some point, I reached so high in the sky that the island was no longer in sight and the game “closed its eyes” to bring me back to the start menu.
The only extra, but awesome, feature in Proteus is the postcard system. Pressing F9 at any point allows you to take a snapshot that can be viewed and selected from the start menu. By clicking it, the game will read and recreate the data from that specific island in that specific moment. When everything is generated uniquely every time, it’s great knowing that you can always return to your favorite moments.
While this is all wrapped into a neat and simple little package, this is also what may be its greatest weakness for most. Within the first 45 minutes of exploration, you will probably see the majority of the game. After that, it’s only a matter of continuing walking around and traversing newly generated islands to catch new, small details that you may have missed or have not seen before, but nothing drastically different. Each island may be unique and familiar, but that’s just it: it’s all too familiar. Sure, the topography may have changed, but you’ll usually find the same statues atop the same hill, among other things. On top of having no real motivation to continue to search through the rest of the island other than your own curiosity; Proteus does not do much past its own worldly immersion. It doesn’t make it any less fun, but it does not give you as many hours of playtime as you wish there could be. If anything, you could spend hours just standing there and basking in the world, but that’s not enough for a game to ride on. Additionally, the aforementioned vortex is one of the only actual things to do on the island aside from chasing after cute little pixelated animals. In that sense, as a game, there is no competition to be found nor are there any objectives, which may leave some wondering why they should continue, or even pay the $9.99 price tag.
In all, Proteus is a work of art. It’s experimental, it’s simple, and it’s a wonder. Before buying this game, you should know what you are getting into. Like reading a book without a conflict, gamers may be confused as to why this is worthy of their time, but it is something that ought to be checked out. In a sense, I suppose I can consider Proteus a game, just in a very different vein from everything else on the market. It is not played to win; it is played to quench your curiosity, to relax, to dream whilst awake. In many ways, this kind of reminds me of LSD: Dream Emulator, except less horrific. I would not go so far as to agree and say that it’s “one of the most important video games of the here and now,” as Mike Rose from Gamasutra stated, but Proteus is certainly something to be observed by gamers and developers alike. As subjective as it is, everyone can learn something from this dream simulation, whether it’s about how to create a world, or how to make the best of it. Depending on what you are looking for, Proteus is worthy of your time, even if it might not end up being as long of an amount of time as you wish it would be.
[+ Serene atmosphere] [+ Beautiful, constantly changing world] [+ Uniquely generated islands]
[+ Postcard system is a huge convenience] [+ Great music and sounds tie everything together in a big way] [+ Satisfies your curiosity] [+ A cappella birds] [- Lack of objective may confuse some players] [- Lack of story struggles to motivate player] [- Might be too dependent on curiosity for some]
For co-creator Ed Key’s stance on Proteus as a game, you can click here.
As a promotion, you can pick up Proteus on Steam for $8.99 until February 6th.