Review: Proteus (Ed Key and David Kanaga – 2013)

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Proteus is a beautiful game. There will be those who may not even call it a game, who will start it up and say “This sucks. The graphics are terrible and there’s nothing to do”. Indeed, all you do in the world of Proteus is walk around, look at things, and listen. You also have the option of sitting down. There are no achievements or unlockables (aside from some additional settings), and your interaction with the world’s objects is limited to walking toward or standing near them. Yet, playing Proteus is an incredible experience, full of discovery and beautiful in its simplicity.

Despite the simple presentation, there is a surprising amount of depth here. As you walk through Proteus’ randomly-generated world, the game’s soundtrack is created from the objects all around you. Every tree, rock, flower, and cloud all emit various musical tones, each and every thing its own instrument in a dazzling orchestra. Every animal, plant, and stone sing out in a cacophony of noise, dissonant yet somehow harmonious. Even the sun and moon have their own voices to add to the soundtrack.

When you first begin a game, a new world is generated for you to explore. While exploring is the focus of the game, especially during the day, you do progress towards an eventual end. This progression usually occurs at night, though saying how would probably spoil the experience. The conclusion comes after about an hour, depending on how long you spend exploring at different times. I found the ending rather jarring and unexpected, but was strangely satisfied when it was over, and immediately began a new game to discover more secrets.

There are many secrets to discover, but I need to speak in vague terms because the fun of playing comes from finding things on your own, and from your interpretation of the events that transpire. So much of the game is about your own journey through the world. Much like an independent film, some will surely not “get” Proteus, and dismiss it as low-budget and uninteresting. But for those to whom Proteus speaks, it will sing loudly, and playing the game will be a truly delightful experience.

I have played through Proteus three times now and each playthrough brought new discoveries and revelations. For a game with no dialogue or concrete storyline, Proteus invoked in me a wide range of emotions over the course of each game, although subsequent trips through the world had less impact, as many elements were the same or similar. Still, there was enough variation, and the world is so damn pleasant to just be in, that I didn’t mind the similarities.

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Save this image into your postcard folder to play my world!

Playing Proteus is a lot like talking a contemplative walk through the woods, only in videogame land instead of Earth. It is an absolute delight to behold, and while some may find it boring, anyone interested in games as an art form should absolutely give Proteus a try. As with any great piece of art, approach Proteus deliberately with patience and an open mind, and it will have a lot to offer.

I bought this game for $5 during a Steam daily sale. I would have gladly paid the full price of $10. While this isn’t a game I can play for long stretches at a time, it offers a contemplative, relaxing, and wholesome world that I will be happy to return to again.

NOTE: At any time, you can save a “Postcard” by pressing F9, which takes a screenshot but also allows you to return to that world at that time later on. The world data is embedded directly in the screenshot image, so you can trade screenshots with others and let them experience the world you were playing! (By default, Postcards are saved to <user>\My Documents\Proteus\Postcards)

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