Proteus (PS3) review
- Let's you bring your own experience to the world, with just enough detail to frame things
- Bright and colourful, with music to keep you company as you explore
- A game to replay for the pleasure of playing, rather than chasing set achievements
Not so much?
- You will either love it or hate it; and if you hate it, perhaps the worst term you could use is "boring"
- Replays may have fresh new islands, but are mixed with a sense of familiarity
- If you want clear goals - even on basics such as progressing the seasons - you will not find them here
Depending on your personal tastes, Proteus can be one of many contradictory things – a relaxing experiences or a pointless game; more like a toy than a game, or a game where you find your own set of rules; filled with simple effective graphics, or filled with graphics 20 years out of date; something to go back to without pressure when the mood takes you, or something with nothing to replay for. It is something that will be many different things to many different people.
Reviewing Proteus fairly is a challenge. Is it a game? A digital toy? A musical experience? Does it tell a story or do you bring your own?
Proteus does stand in a very strange place as far as genres go. There are few games that need to argue they are actually a game right from the outset, and it isn’t helped that there is no defined goal, no guides or markers, and a minimum of text even on the help screen.
Even the designer admits you’ll either love it or hate it. Well, let me lay my cards on the table – I love it.
The lack of a goal shouldn’t be an obstacle, merely change your approach. Instead of playing to reach a destination – a completion screen, an achievement popping, some fixed target – it becomes about the journey, letting you take your time to wander and explore.
There are no controls beyond movement, no ways of interacting with the world beyond travelling and observing. But despite this disconnection, the game is not a lonely experience. While the world and desire to explore may have been provided by developer Ed Key, recreating his childhood wanderings exploring Cumbria, the music of the game is product of David Kanaga who turned the world into a place to explore aurally via the sounds played as you near objects. In some undefined way the things on the island themselves keep you company.
… and this isn’t even starting mentioning the animals, birds and insects all present too. The island isn’t inhabited, but it is definitely alive.
The graphics are extremely pixelated flat colours, being more representations of things than clearly defined objects. This doesn’t take anything away from the experience, although can sometimes feel like wandering through a child’s drawing with large areas of bright colour.
It also opens up a degree of interpretation to things; while playing on one occasion a family member stopped to watch, occasionally commenting on objects. What I saw as a tower, they saw as a church; what they saw as several random rocks I saw as a graveyard… Even without the game randomising the terrain every game, it is unlikely two players would ever have the same experience.
(With that said, the PS3 and PS Vita have a new option that the PC did not – non-random islands. More specifically, after running through the game once, an option opens up to play a game where the algorithm defining the layout is based on the day’s date. While still technically random, it would allow explorers to return and to tell others what they found. [The PS Vita also has an option to define an island based on your own location])
For all the pleasure found playing, it is easy to see the other side of the debate. You need to bring a lot to the game emotionally to get any return from it. If you’re in the mood for it, the crude graphics turn into a shadow play, but without this you are just left with a deserted island, no interaction and no goals. If wandering through the seasons doesn’t appeal, there is probably nothing else there that will.
Replayability is also a question. While no two plays are ever going to be the same, it is questionable just how different they will be too. Obviously, if you’re in the mood for just relaxing with a run through this isn’t an issue. But if you’re hoping to uncover dramatically new things you may find yourself out of luck.
With that in mind, any rating I can give Proteus is moot – as a guide, it cannot cover how unlikely it is any player will ever be neutral to this. From the description it will either seem something that appeals, or something you’d never want to go near.
Depending on your personal tastes, Proteus can be one of many contradictory things – one of the most relaxing experiences you will have playing on a console, or a pointless game with nothing to do; not a game, more like a toy to play with, or a game where you find your own set of rules; filled with simple graphics to encourage interpretation, or filled with badly drawn graphics 20 years out of date; something to go back to without pressure when the mood takes you, or something with nothing to replay for. It is something that will be many different things to many different people – and while I know I am not alone in having enjoyed my wandering and exploring, I am certain that many won’t.