To call Proteus ‘just’ a game would be almost entirely inaccurate, plain wrong, even. For this indie game from developer and publisher, Curve, is an experience.
Welcome to Proteus
I get my first example of this accidentally. Entering the game there is no HUD, no objective or semblance of what I should do. Instead I’m surrounded by a beautiful turquoise sea, where the waves are all but peaceful white coloured blips used to display the current and the distant sound of waves crashing onto the shore is replaced by the quiet, gentle tinkling of the game’s soundtrack. It’s peaceful, beautiful and I go to note it down.
But I’m idle, I take too long to type it and in the process I experience one of most mesmerising examples of a living, breathing game world in Proteus. The only suggestion of where I am in the world is a far off island, the yellow of its shore and the trees that line its bank are, so far, all that I know, but this is soon obscured by a fog and then comes the rain which falls in pale pixel pellets into the sea I’m seemingly floating on, altering its colour from a light blue to a pale, emerald green. I take it in, the soundtrack changing seamlessly to accompany the rain and to match with a beaming orange sun that has started to set. I soon realise that I haven’t moved. And before I know it I’ve watched Proteus’ entire day/night/weather cycle pass me by.
We’re All Going on a Proteus Holiday
Succinctly, Proteus is like the second night of a holiday. You’ve flown across the world and now the groggy weight of jetlag has worn off and you’re standing on a balcony of some sunny resort thinking ‘this is so much more pretty than the concrete slabs and cement blocks that I’m used to’. Except here the grey of concrete is every other game.
Also unlike other games, Proteus is an open world where instead of throwing things to do at you like feathers to a greased up, sticky, hairless animal, the entire point of Proteus is that you don’t know what to do. Or, that there is (seemingly) no point but for the game to be warm and idyllic like a nap in a cosiest of blankets. Movement is your lone tool in this game, with the soundtrack as your mini map. Moving towards significant places in Proteus produces more examples of the game’s wonderful soundtrack which I fear I will be unable to praise enough. You walk to blossoming trees that rain pink pixels onto your nameless and faceless character, whom, for all intents in purposes, I’m naming ‘You’ (because I think that’s who it’s meant to represent. There are flowers too that randomly sprout, wave and give you more soundtrack.
It could be confusing, or a jolt to the system for some players not used to being given a world in which everything is so bare and minimal but on the inside, Proteus is anything but. Instead, with your movement and the sounds it welcomingly encapsulates you with, Proteus can be the game that you make it. If you’re here to listen to everything then you can follow what you think are markers and explore the sounds. If you want to try and unlock some of Proteus’ experiences and discover a game that’s unlike any other, than that too would make the game more than worthy of your time.
Proteus is absolutely no display of gameplay excellence and it makes reviewing the game especially hard because there is really no gameplay to review. But what Proteus does do well is what everyone else usually gets wrong. It’s the fact that I can call up a friend who’s played it and say ‘I saw an unidentified animal in Proteus today, I chased it and got lost but I didn’t care because have you HEARD the soundtrack’. Or the time I ran right into middle of the ocean and got scared because the sun set and there was no sound, so I hightailed it under a cloud because I knew I could listen to the David Kanaga produced soundtrack once more. In part Proteus is completely random because thanks to the work of Proteus’ programmer Ed Key, the game is procedurally generated and so no foray into its intriguing masterpiece of a world will be the same. In fact, likely the only way you’ll be able to see exactly what your friends did is if they gave a quick tap of ‘R1’, which allows you to take a postcard, viewable from the game’s title menu where you can also see pictures from the cloud.
A Proteus Sized World, Mammoth Sized Questions
Soaring heights and electronic blips that make you think you’re doing something special and uncovering some new and interesting are my favourite things to listen to in the game because that is exactly how I feel in playing Proteus. While your favourite notes might be entirely different, it’s unlikely that we’ll disagree that Proteus doesn’t just give you fleeting moments of lovely music, as in certain spaces it makes you think. The world is relatively lonely, save your own presence but why is there a seemingly deserted cabin? Who built it? Those animals that bound away from you when you get near, are they scared? Why do they flee? And thanks to that randomly generated pixel stuff, I read one review who described a grave that faced the sun, but I have yet to see that in my multiple playthroughs, but the questions that this game produces about our world, its own world and the worlds of every other game, are seemingly endless.
It’s these little moments that really make games great, games such as Journey which is the same brand of minimal and intriguing and Proteus has pixel upon minimalist pixel of this. So while there are four clear defined seasons in the game and a starting point that never differs, Proteus makes more of a case for being an art piece than it does a game, but that is an absolutely beautiful thing.
I still don’t know what Proteus is about or even what the main aim of it is, but after walking away with a peaceful mind and a collection full of memories, the one thing I am sure of (and indeed my only criticism, which holds it back from a perfect score) is that Proteus is a game that I would very much like much, much more of.
Overall Score: 9
You can download Proteus for PS3 or PS Vita now from the PlayStation Store.