Proteus is simple. Proteus starts you off on the shore of a remote island. From there you explore and enjoy the scenery backed by a calming yet haunting synthesized score. At first, you’ll wonder what you’re supposed to do as you wander the island. But as things happen around you, spurred only by your own curiosity, you’ll realize that you’re already doing what the game wants you to do. Proteus doesn’t have any objectives to complete, enemies to defeat or puzzles to solve. There are no experience points, upgradable weapons or progression trees. There isn’t even a jump button. Many games tote that they are delivering an experience but Proteus is truly an experience in the truest form. In fact, you could go as far as to say that you don’t play Proteus; you experience it.
Developed by Ed Key and David Kanaga
Published by Ed Key and David Kanaga
Released on 1-30-2013
The game starts off with you waking up in ocean but in front of you is an island. Once you make your way to the island, you are given free control to move around, accomplished with the keyboard and mouse or just with the mouse. From there, you simply wander around, exploring the pixelated island designed with bright, almost neon colors. There’s almost no textures to see but everything is given life with creatively placed blocks of off colors and a vibrancy to the art design. You may have to use your imagination to identify anything on the island, whether it be a tree or a frog but you’ll have no trouble doing that thanks to the charming manner in which everything reacts around you. Trees will blow in the wind, bees will chase after you, frogs will hop away if you come close. Do not let the Atari-esque visuals fool as this is an imaginative world that is still based in reality.
What could have been a quaint but predictable simulation of a remote island, albeit through pixelated visuals, becomes an eye opening encounter due to a couple of occurrences. The first you’ll stumble upon after playing for several moments. I won’t give away how this happens but you’ll be able to explore the islands through different seasons. As such, the island’s look, feel, and even the little bugs you run into will change. Despite you being on the same island, the tone of your surrounds will change considerable. Trees will look different, the sky will seem brighter or darker, even the ground will look different from before. If that weren’t enough, the island changes all the time as the day ends and nighttime begins, as the sun shines bright or as clouds move in and it starts to rain.
The second factor is the aforementioned music. You’ll notice almost immediately after you step onto the island that the composer of this game wanted you to feel the island more than anything else. The music constantly progresses, changing with the seasons and the weather on the island. Sound effects change as you go, whether it be the rustling of the tree leaves in the wind, the hopping of a frog, or the buzzing of the bees. They change as you come about them, your only real interaction with the game. It can lull you into a trance and make your experience on the island all that more profound. As the game progresses, it begins to dictate how you feel at that moment, whether it be solace, happiness, fear, playfulness or uncertainty. This all moves towards an epiphany towards the end of the game that makes you realize how special Proteus really is.
If there’s a complaint that can be levied, it’s that Proteus could be considered not a game at all. The lack of anything to do other than explore makes it comparable to an interactive painting, an exhibit for you to examine of your own contention. The length of the game comes in at a mere hour or even less, making the experience woefully brief. However, Proteus is meant to be played in one sitting and you will probably want to experience it again at a later time. It may not be a fun game and you may not even feel accomplished upon completing it but that’s not the point. It’s objective is not to entertain but to emote, not to accomplish but to intrigue. You need to come into this game with an open mind as to what you’re about to play and because of that, it’s not for everyone. However, if you can do that, Proteus is one of the most enjoyable interactive experiences I’ve had this year. Never has a game brought beauty not to living in a tranquil island, nature or even being by yourself, but to simply living. Proteus makes me think how beautiful it is to exist.