Developed by Ed Key and David Kanaga
Published by Curve Studios
Released October 29, 2013
Review Written February 16, 2014
Originally Posted on Boss Dungeon
Not really knowing what I was getting into, Proteus is one of the few games I picked up during my Playstation Network winter sale binge. Developed by Ed Key and David Kanaga this artistic odyssey leaves the player, or viewer I should say, with more questions than answers. With a minimalistic art style sprinkled with a musical undercurrent, this journey makes you want to believe it has more to offer.
When you first begin Proteus your character awakens in the middle of the ocean a mile away from an island. Your character is actually less of a character and more of a floating, disembodied eyeball but that is fairly irrelevant. As you move out of the waters and trek upon the nearby beaches, you gaze upon the beautiful, minimalistic art style. With every step you are given a snowballing melody that adds to the bewilderment. Musical tones spring for every movement, every creature, and every plant. Not really knowing what you stumbled into, you continue on seeking answers.
Proteus creates this peaceful, relaxing experience of meandering while maintaining its ambiguity in order to grab your interest for at least one playthrough. The biggest draw of Proteus is its ability to appease your inner wanderlust in the same vein as games like TESV: Skyrim or Fallout 3. Although only resembling those games through the innate desire to roam freely, Proteus brings forth its beautiful textures and sounds to inspire exploration. With a changing time cycle, weather cycle, four seasons, and randomly generated islands it can be somewhat of a different experience for each player but by much. There is just something calming about seeing pixilated clouds glide towards your screen and slowly release a downpour of rain.
Adding more upon that, the pixilated art style is very soft in its presence. I really enjoyed the first moments I spent watching trees rustle in the wind through blocky textures like some 16-bit dance. The skyline is also the most breathtaking element within Proteus as dawn and dusk flow while a rare falling star glimmers in the corner of your screen. The visuals are definitely a key point of the game along with the musical tones, as they both help develop the serene nature throughout your journey.
The controls to Proteus are as minimalistic as the entire game’s structure as well. You only have the ability to move, look, sit, and save. The minimal controls are meant to help promote your wanderment but I felt it holds the player back by lacking interactive buttons and this comes off as one of the flaws within the game; your character doesn’t really interact with the environment you are viewing. Some animals will run away when you approach them, but that is the only reaction you gain from wandering the island besides the handful of moments that will leave you audibly saying, “Whoa.” Without feeling like I was truly interacting with the island or able to do anything other than walk, I felt less like I was playing a game and more like I was viewing a digital art gallery throughout my one hour playthrough.
Looking at Proteus after completing it, I’ve been trying to distinguish if it can even be categorized as a game. Sure it has some gaming elements and is fairly linear in getting to the end screen, but it lacks what you find normally within a game; an objective or at least a straightforward one. This was the most frustrating aspect for me as there’s no sense of direction, no instructions, and no true interaction with the world you traverse. What’s the point of playing if there is no goal to complete? Sure the game starts out interesting and somewhat fun while searching with reckless abandon, but that novelty wears off after completing an hour. Proteus doesn’t offer many reasons to really return to the island to replay another session. Yet digging deeper into the basis of this game I found one objective the creators had intended for the player. Albeit very basic, the goal of Proteus is to just explore and be free. Strangely the game achieves influencing the player to explore as many players will begin to do so without realizing it. Even with that realization I still think Proteus is more of an hour long visual-musical experience than a game; a digital art display.
Proteus starts you off lost and confused, searching with questions when there are no answers. From a distance it appears that it doesn’t have much to offer, yet a peaceful hour long experience is left available for those willing to take it. I took a blind leap into this game and personally don’t feel the experience obtained from Proteus is worth the money. I’d say pass on it unless it sounds like something that will artistically appeal to your inner wanderer.
Review Written by John of The Time Heist
Editorial Note: I feel that having the character awaken in the ocean may symbolically relate to the fact that in Greek mythology Proteus is the God of rivers & bodies of water as well as the eldest son of Poseidon. That could explain why you awaken in the ocean whenever you start a new game, but I could be reading too much into the details of the name.