What makes a video game a video game? Is it the use of a controller? Does it require a story or an aim? How about the need for an objective or final goal? Does it even matter? Well, depending on your viewpoint, it could be argued that Proteus isn’t a video game at all, and that, despite being something that requires the use of a video game console, is closer to a piece of vaguely interactive art than it is to a video game; something to be experienced rather than to be played.
Proteus, while understandably difficult to quantify, is something akin to walking through a piece of music, music that has been visualised and created with a sense of place associated to it, a product that is there, not to have a goal, or to provide a challenge, but to be enjoyed, to create a sense of mood and place within the player that can successfully transport them to world in which music and sound are as tangible as brick and mortar……or land and sea anyway.
As you can imagine, this makes Proteus a very difficult “game” to review, as by my reckoning, it’s not really a game at all – not in the traditional sense anyway. The same could have been said of the excellent, Journey, but that, as promised by its title, does have a beginning and an end; a goal so to speak. Proteus doesn’t quite have that. It has a start in so much that you appear (awaken?) upon the shore of a deserted island, but what then? Where do you go? What do you do? The answer is; it’s up to you. That’s not to say that you have Minecraft levels of possibilities here. Played (experienced) from a first person perspective, (if you are a person that is – it‘s never made clear), you have exactly zero power over the world around you. You can move, but that’s about it. You glide as effortlessly through water as you do on land. You scale steep mountains as easily as you would a minor incline, but you can’t jump, you don’t interact, and for the most part, you simply enjoy your surroundings.
Sound boring? Well, it isn’t. Well, it wasn’t for me anyway. With its 3D world created with old school Atari-esque visuals at the very heart of its design, Proteus is nothing if not striking. On a base level, the visuals are indeed simple, but they come together to create a world quite unlike any other. It’s technically basic for sure, but artistically, it’s gorgeous. The visuals are secondary however to the games’ unforgettable audio. With music that travels with you, that is created by the world around you, it acts almost as a conduit to envelop you completely into your surroundings – it’s quite unlike anything else out there. From the sound of falling rain and minor wildlife to the surprisingly beautiful act of the wind blowing through the surrounding trees, Proteus is rarely anything less than an undeniably relaxing joy. It’s carefree joy certainly won’t be for everyone, and for those that found Journey a tad aimless, Proteus certainly won’t be for you. For those looking for a new type of interactive experience though, Proteus might well scratch the itch that many of today’s more traditional gaming experiences cannot.
While there is a way to finish the experience in its most basic form, subsequently providing the simplest sense of progression, in reality, Proteus is a loop in which the things you see and hear, while familiar, are never quite the same and that, the goal is more of an end to the tape than a truly perceptible, traditional finishing point. Proteus is an experience to be visited again and again, not to finish, but to simply exist within, to simply walk and be. There is the ability to save images, which is arguably is closest thing to a recognisable video game trait (images that are put to ingenious use in the menu), but it’s so organic and so unique that to say anymore would act only to ruin the surprise.
Whether Proteus is a video game or not then doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it exists and that it has made its way to our homes. Be it on the PS3 or the Vita, Proteus is a remarkable experience, but if you have the choice, I would suggest a large TV, a darkened room and the best headphones that you have. Proteus is something to immerse yourself in. Be it for 5 minutes of 5 hours, Proteus is an experience worthy of the gaming world’s attention.
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