Proteus is a game that is kind of hard to pin down. More of an audio visual experience than a game in the true sense of the word, it turns your ideas about what gaming should be on their heads. So what is it all about? It’s an open world game that lets you wander the environment at will, exploring the island and enjoying the scenery as soothing music plays in the background. The catch here, the thing that will really either make or break the experience for you, is that is really all there is to it.
The mechanics of the game are simple. You use the left stick to move around in the environment – over mountains, through the snow, on top of water – makes no difference where you are, you’ll move slowly through at the same pace, no matter what. The right stick moves the camera around, giving you a view of the world around you. The “x” button allows you to have your character sit down, which moves your field of vision slightly down. The “o” button lets you kind of blink. The top and bottom halves of the screen slowly move together to cover the screen in black as you hold the button down. If you are wandering in the middle of the ocean, it will warp you back to the island. If you’re on the island, the game will restart at the menu. Finally, “R1” lets you take a postcard – a picture of the scene directly in front of you.
I know what you’re thinking – what do you do as you wander around this open world? Do you collect coins, slay ferocious beasts, rescue a princess, gather food and supplies? Nope, nope, nope, and nope. You really don’t do anything but wander around. Leaves fall from the trees, amorphous animals hop around, the sun rises and sets, and more – and you just wander around and look at it all. You can chase the frog, but you won’t catch it. You’ll see falling leaves and shooting stars, clouds gather and pour down rain – but your only purpose is to be present and enjoy the world around you.
Like the purpose of the game itself, the look of it is likely to be a bit polarizing. Rather than being a lifelike nature experience, it is presented as a very pixelated world , where everything from animals and flowers to buildings and trees are open to interpretation as to what they are actually meant to represent. In one way, it does allow you to put your own stamp on the game, so to speak, as you let your own imagination decide what is there in the world around you. On the other hand, it really makes every trip to the island look rather the same. That can be soothing in its own way, but it will feel too repetitious for some.
What you get out of Proteus is really completely based on what you want from it, and what type of personality you have. For someone like me, who tends to be somewhat hyper, it is really difficult to make yourself slow down and just wander around the environment, chasing frogs and looking at flowers, without any true objective in mind. I like to feel as though I’m checking things off my list, getting things accomplished – and you don’t get that with Proteus. Then again, maybe I’m exactly the type of person who would benefit most from just slowing down and engaging in some relaxation.
My teenaged son, who is of a much different temperament than I, really saw value and enjoyment in the game. While he didn’t feel as though it was something he would play all the time, he liked the idea of just exploring without the need for goals and expectations. In fact, before playing he was in a rather cranky mood (Algebra – it’ll do that), and the playing the game visibly calmed him down. I can see the benefit in it, as a stress release and a way to relax at the end of a long day.
Proteus is a study in expectations. Categorized as a video game, it really offers little in the way of gaming as we have come to expect. And yet, it offers a calming way to relax and let your imagination run free, without the need to fulfill objectives or beat the clock. If you’re looking for a stress release or just something completely different, you’ll likely enjoy your time with Proteus. If you’re looking for an exciting game that you can advance through and eventually beat, you just won’t find it here.