It’s time for another game that’s difficult to recommend to everyone. It’s going to be a short edition of IF this week as saying too much about Proteus may well dampen some of its appeal. This time around we have a game that consists almost entirely of walking around an island with the sole intention of exploring and looking around. So it’s light on gameplay mechanics, but is that necessarily a bad thing?[drop2]You begin in the ocean, approaching a randomly generated island. After making your way to the shore, you will walk around this island, exploring and taking in its many sights. The myriad of landscapes you’ll come across manage to look spectacular despite the game’s understated aesthetic, from fields to beaches to snowcapped mountains. Then there’s odd black towers that are a little ominous, juxtaposed against the island’s mostly-vibrant palette, and graveyards that again almost seem out of place.
Proteus is teeming with life, which you’ll soon discover as you come across little pixel-y animals. These often react to you by running, hopping or flying away. It’s not always obvious what the animal is due to the nature of the game’s aesthetic, or even if it is supposed to represent a real animal, but a frog is clearly a frog, and an owl obviously an owl. Other flora and fauna hint at a real life counterpart, but are just different enough that you can’t quite be sure.
Most interesting about all of this however is the sounds. The music in Proteus is wonderful and it changes as you wander around. It’s ambient and beautiful, perfectly matching the look of the game. A flock of bird-like creatures running away from you will make a clatter of noise that serves only to bring further life to the island, while the isolated whistle of the wind as you stand atop a mountain is notable in its effect purely due to how strange it feels after listening to the bustling sound of life below. As you descend again to walk through the fields and forests you can hear the music and sounds of the game’s wildlife return bit by bit, fading in, almost comforting in a way.
As you wander the island, the sun sets and the sky grows dark. This lets you see your objective, if that’s what you want to call it: a circle composed of little lights. It shrinks when you get close enough until it looks a little like a portal that will take you to the next season on the island, where things will look and sound different, but still just as pretty. As you get to the circle of lights time will advance, showing the plants and trees wavering strongly and the sun and moon chasing each other across the sky at speed. It’s truly a gorgeous scene.[drop]Gameplay consists only of walking around an island, but that’s not the focus; the presentation of the environment, whether it’s the pixelated beauty or accompanying music, is what’s important. It feels almost like wandering through a dreamscape. If you’re the type of person who’ll be absorbed by that kind of thing Proteus is like nothing else, though perhaps waiting for a sale would be an idea. It’s not for everyone, but those who do like it will like it a lot.
You can get Proteus for Windows, OSx and Linux. It’s available from its official website for $10 via the Humble Store, where you’ll get it DRM free alongside a Steam key and the bonus EP Nodeland Dreams and Memories. You can also get it directly from Steam for £6.99 if you prefer.