Proteus Review: Still Beautiful, Now Slightly Less Empty

This is the basic forward motion of Proteus, and if you want to make it to the title’s “end,” this is how you do it. I don’t, obviously. I want to break the cycle and find a new way forward, if one exists. This means spending time in the Spring section, forcing the nights to wear into days and overstaying my welcome in this season. Hoping to discover something new, I try messing with my unseen, nameless character by sitting — the game has a “sit” button — amid the ring of eerie statues on a hilltop, staring at the night sky. This triggers a trippy effect in which all the stars pulsate and expand like balloons. I try to force my character to pass out from staring at it; I watch meteor showers. The streaking, pulsating sky, white and blue and black, is definitely something to behold, but it produces no new effects.

Eventually I get bored in my attempts to glean new interactions from the world as a whole second day passes, having ringed the island three more times while avoiding the tachyon swirl at the center. Finally, there seems nothing left to do. The towers do not cooperate. The cabin’s sprite door does not yield to me. The frogs will not hang out and become friends, nor yield themselves to being eaten or even touched. I step into the swirl and the world grows brighter.

Summer on Proteus is a brighter, more exciting time. The music is more up-beat; there are more animals flitting around. Strange, eel-like orange creatures dance together in the sunlight above the island coast. When night falls, I trek back to the statues and watch the sky trip out again, but to no lasting effect. At some point I’m chased by bees, sprinting across the island at a speed I can’t otherwise attain. It’s a more exciting season, with much more to see and do. I find a white frog that glitters and makes a different sound effect from other frogs, and leaps much farther than its counterparts. Chasing it, I try to drive the magic frog to the center of the tachyon swirl and turn it into a time traveler, hoping to mess up the timeline of the island and perhaps find something new. The magic frog does not cooperate.

Storms roll in when I reach Fall, creating low cloud-cover. The trees creak audibly as if the wood is expanding and contracting, acted on by the forces of the weather. I climb to the top of the statue hill during the day, looking out over the low clouds that cover the world beneath me. Nothing new happens here but the shift from brighter hues to grays, browns and blues gives the island a new sort of face. The sound effect growing cooler and dampened gives it a different, more subdued soul. I wait for night to descend, occasionally stepping around the small corpses of insect-like fliers that have fallen to the ground as time wears on.

When night comes in the Fall, things get weirder than they have yet been on the island, and it appears that there really is more to the retail release than early builds of Proteus. Adventuring around the island at certain times of the day and night encourages exploration and discovery, and what you discover in turn alters the world around you in some pretty meaningful and interesting ways. The entire experience — whether you want to call it a game or not — is about the mysticism of seeing this pixely world morph and distort around you.

Winter eventually comes, and Proteus ends without me finding the ending I had sought — I fail to break it or glean some new layer from the snow-covered fields and cloudy skies. I don’t manage to break the island. But while I am unable to affect the game, it does affect me — the new things I have seen were, at some points, beautiful in that video game sort of way. The mystery of Proteus continues and the game world created there is worth a visit, despite the inability to touch it or alter it. But at the same time, the game made me want to take an actual hike in the real world; and it’s a tough sell at $10 for anyone but those who enjoy thinking about video games as art, and wandering around an intriguing place without doing anything.

Pros:

  • Beautiful, fascinating world
  • Lots of strange things to discover
  • Emphasis on exploration makes this a low-stress journey
  • Will scratch your “games are art” itch if you have one
  • Great soundtrack, expertly combined with visuals

Cons

  • You can’t really do anything or interact with anything — this is purely observational
  • Only lasts about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on if you drag things out
  • Very little replay value beyond wanting to see what the island looks like again
  • Price versus amount of content will turn off some players

Final Score: 75/100

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2 Comments on Proteus Review: Still Beautiful, Now Slightly Less Empty

Dan Miller

On December 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

I just played through this on Vita for the first time yesterday. How do you review a game like this? It’s a gorgeous experience that anybody with some aesthetic sense should play. I’ll remember the moment that you drift away from the island as pretty magical, and unique in gaming. Journey was one of my favorite games ever, so it’s no surprise I enjoyed Proteus. It’s certainly niche. I spend so much (too much) time in games trying to maximize DPS and other competitive, incremental improvement bull, mindlessly plowing through hours of essentially non-moments that I won’t remember the next day. It’s refreshing to come upon something like this, which presents 2-3 fantastic moments in just 45 minutes. I won’t remember the middle 20 hours I spent on CoD this year, but I’ll remember Proteus.

Personally, I don’t see harm in giving it a 10/10. It achieves exactly what it sets out to. Hard to fault art when it hits its mark, though I’m sure it doesn’t resonate for many. I’ll never understand how price is factored into a review, especially when the price is 1/6 of a standard game… but that’s a longer discussion.

James

On August 11, 2014 at 8:47 am

Whoever wrote this. I found an end I have yet to read about. Can’t remember the season, could have been winter. Walked up a snowy mountain during a meteor shower. I looked into the meteor shower and found a circular opening in the meteorite tails, like they were aimed around me. I sat down. After a couple of seconds my eyes closed and it was all dark.