Developers: Ed Key and David Kanaga
Genre: Minimalist adventure, Experimental
Best described as a curiosity simulator that takes place on a procedurally-generated island, Proteus seems to visually inhibit a space that feels like it’s straight out of an arthouse version of Minecraft . The game exists purely for exploration without interaction. Following up from Dear Esther’s concept of adventure without any interaction, Proteus often feels like a visit to the museum. You can observe and move around freely but you cannot perform any other action besides that. Jump, crouch, shoot and dig are actions that are strangers to Proteus. There is no goal or objective either, instead you simply wander from dawn to dusk, immersing your senses in the oddities of the island littered with random curiosities that pique your interest and mystify you at the same time.
Think Myst without the puzzles or Skyrim without its quests and you have a proper idea of what Proteus is. When you think along those lines, the game does tend to grow on you. In many games, we are often given open-world and freedom to explore them, but its’ quests which often drive us. The quests often rob us of the mere concept of exploring the world for the sake of it. Proteus does that — it removes the layer of quests and objectives and simply leaves the world for you to explore.
This is what Proteus is – an experiment in a closed room full of odd sights and puzzling mysteries that have little purpose than to simply hold your fancy and mystify you .Capable of moments of serenity that can give you goosebumps, Proteus is an impressionist wonder when it comes to aesthetics.
Ironically, as a game without any goals and objectives, Proteus does have some semblance of progression. As dawn turns to dusk, the world adopts an aura of magical realism in the blanket of the starry sky . Objects of mere interest start having an effect, albeit a brief one, in the world around you. Stone structures drone as you walk past them, wind blows imaginary wind chimes as fireflies slowly gather at a particular spot on the island. Once you discover this spot and step into the circle of fireflies, time moves past quickly. Day turns into night at a dramatic speed as you stand rooted to the spot – in the background of the ambient synths, it is an experience which few games can claim to provide.
When you emerge out of the circle, you are living through a new season. From Spring to Winter – you experience all the four seasons witnessing the island at its very peak – brimming with life and joyful off-key synths around every corner to the cold, lifeless and serene beauty of Winter – where you wander the island whose every last relic is frozen in stasis and every key of the music gives you chills.
Like a lonely adventurer, your journey comes to an end barely hitting the 45 minute mark, which is exactly how long a complete playthrough of Proteus takes. The procedural generation means every time you restart, you’ll be witnessing a different island unlike any you previously played, but even these islands tend to harbor many similarities to one another.
For many gamers’, Proteus will easily be dismissed as a pretentious, MS Paint-art explorer without any purpose. It will challenge their definition of “games” but will not convince them due to its abstract nature. Others who see “games as experience” and appreciated Dear Esther for what it was, will appreciate Proteus as a further distillation of the concept – leaving a player in a world full of mysteries that don’t have any answers. A world where you are a silent observer to its oddities – where time is the only medium of change, the music your only companion and the seasons are lingering indicators of the time that has sped past .
Proteus is akin to a beautiful impressionistic painting in a museum where you can observe its many mysteries from a distance but never fully participate in it . At once, a briefly mystifying experience to the senses both visually and sonically, Proteus is quite literally the game made to describe an “experience”.
- The island’s many oddities and sights
- Interesting exploration of the concept of freedom without anything specific to do
- Ambient synths provide a minimal layer befitting of the experience
- Certain events can result in brief sensory overload and goosebumps
- Not for everyone
- Procedural generation doesn’t increase replay value
- As a one-time experience, the price of admission is a little high
- Gameplay Progression: Not Available
- Graphics: 7/10
- Sound: 9/10
- Unique Selling Proposition: 7/10
- illFactor: 7/10