Welcome to Proteus, a typical year-long stroll in the park on an island covered in strange stones, a few strange organisms, and nothing you can actually interact with.
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Open world exploration
Developer: Ed Key and David Kanaga (all), Curve Studios (PS3 and Vita)
Proteus is often called an anti-game, one that doesn’t follow the standard definition of a game, opting to instead ditch common mechanics for a much more minimal approach. There are few games like this out there, one of them being Dear Esther, and it’s this lack of gameplay that defines Proteus. Ed Key and David Kanaga wanted to make a game that was nontraditional, so it’s no wonder that Proteus features such a different gameplay style – or rather, a lack thereof.
In Proteus, you walk around a pixel-based procedurally-generated island and explore. There’s four seasons to go through, beginning in spring. There is no goal, no quest, and no plot. Just walk around the island and observe through the four seasons of the game. That’s all there is to it. But while some people love this approach to gaming and the simplistic nature of Proteus, I found myself having a different reaction to it.
+ Proteus is a nice, peaceful change of pace at times. Proteus might be a good option to cool down with if you ever fall into a situation where you want to play something low-key.
+ Despite the incredibly minimal graphics in Proteus, you can still find beauty. At some times and under certain circumstances, you can look up to the sky and see a great light show, maybe have the entire mood of the landscape change in a second, or even enjoy the seasonal view of the circle of sparkles around the ring of ruins.
= Proteus’s soundtrack ranges from soothing to annoying. I certainly never got tired of the peaceful sounds of nature, but the sounds that the few other organisms on the island make when you get close started wear on me before too long.
= If you play this game on the PlayStation Vita, you’ll have a few extra features to play with. Sadly, how to use these features isn’t really explained at all, and what I managed to figure out on my own wasn’t enough to matter much.
– Proteus just doesn’t offer that much. Playing through the four seasons once can be done in 30 minutes or less, maybe an hour if you take your time, and you probably won’t play more than once or twice.
– Even if you go for the extra tasks given to you by the trophies “Unraveling the Landscape” and “Generall Historie of Plantes”, no extra options or features are unlocked, so there is almost no incentive to play Proteus more than once.
– Walking through a cloud, which you may have to do at times if you want to go over a mountain, is very unpleasant. Even though the clouds begin to part when you’re near them so you can see through them, they only move if they’re within an arm’s reach, so it’s pointless that they even move at all. Your vision will still be obstructed, and you may even feel minor motion sickness or get a slight headache because of it.
– The island is largely the same each time, which is incredibly disappointing because it’s procedurally generated on each playthrough, meaning you’re supposed to get a different island every time. The layout of everything does move around a bit, but the objects in the world and visuals never change.
– The biggest complaint I have with Proteus is that I seldom found any actual entertainment. Whenever I did find something that I enjoyed, it didn’t last very long, and those moments came too few and too far apart to count for much.
At the end of the day, Proteus is just a walking simulator. Playing Proteus gets very boring very fast, and offers little to no reward for playing it (if you consider walking and looking to be a form of playing a game).
Given, I’m not bashing Proteus for a lack of gameplay. I know that the intent of Proteus was never to show off gameplay. In fact, Proteus is probably more about that absence of gameplay and that complete minimalism more than anything else. Yet, I am bashing Proteus for lacking any sort of enjoyment factor in my time with it. I played the four seasons of Proteus four times, which is more than enough experience in the game to see everything, and I’m not sure if I enjoyed Proteus at all outside of seeing the rare special event moments (see the second pro note).
Maybe Proteus actually is a game that you’ll enjoy. Maybe you understand this kind of game, and you thrive in the lack of most anything that Proteus gives you. Many people like Proteus, and enjoyed the approach. I certainly didn’t.