Proteus is a thoughtful experience that you’ll remember long after your character has slowly closed his eyes.
Whenever I think of video games in general, I think of them in terms of agency. What would you do in Doom if you couldn’t shoot? What would Super Mario Bros. had to offer if its chubby protagonist couldn’t jump? What kind of game would Street Fighter be if you couldn’t pull off a combination of punches, kicks and special attacks? Proteus is one of the few titles I can think of that can’t be defined in terms of agency. Granted, the indie title emphasizes exploration, but the experience of playing Proteus goes well beyond that.
Proteus is an exploration-based indie title by developer Ed Key and musician David Kanaga. Unlike most games out there Proteus doesn’t have a map and doesn’t encourage you to fulfill any type of missions or objectives. Proteus doesn’t even have Steam achievements like most titles published in Valve’s popular digital distribution service. Instead, Proteus puts emphasis on its beautifully constructed world which you can approach however you prefer.
When you start Proteus, you find yourself in the ocean near a misty island. Your first instinct will probably be to go to the shore, but you can turn around and swim in the opposite direction should you decide to. Proteus doesn’t waste time teaching you its controls, introducing complex mechanics or forcing you to watch dull tutorials. This title doesn’t need any of that and the only reason why I’m bringing that up is because Proteus is the kind of the game that trusts its audience.
So there are no needless tutorials or explanations and the only thing you can do is move, look around and sit. There’s no way to save your progress (although pressing F9 allows you to save a postcard to access that precise moment later on) and should you decide to go back to the main menu, you’ll need to press the escape button long enough for the main character to close his eyes. Additionally you have no weapons or tools to manipulate your surroundings. Yet the objective of this game isn’t to use resources to change the environment. On the contrary, its main goal is to produce a change in the player.
As soon as you make it to the shore, you’re welcomed by some truly mesmerizing vistas and pristine environments. At first, everything in the environment seems to react to your presence: petals falls from trees as you approach them, animals run away when you’re near them and so on and so forth. But soon enough you’ll notice that this is a living, breathing world that simply exists, regardless of your actions. Additionally, every action that takes place in this world is reflected in its amazing soundtrack: animals jumping around, the rain or the movement of the tide produce peculiar sounds, making this a sensory experience that’s difficult to forget.
To a certain extent, the world of Proteus is a working ecosystem, but your involvement in it is quite limited. As a consequence, the experience can be welcoming to some and extremely alienating to others. Gorgeous miracles may happen around you, but you’re nothing but a powerless observer who doesn’t have control over those events.
Undoubtedly, some players will run around aimlessly, looking for this experience to make sense. Others will approach Proteus like they do life: they’ll study their surroundings, enjoy the ride and appreciate Proteus for what it is. Those who are willing to put some effort and ignore the lack of challenge will find that Proteus is a thoughtful experience that you’ll remember long after your character has slowly closed his eyes.