Proteus Wakes Up On PlayStation

Proteus is almost impossible to define. Many people will argue that it’s not a game. Many will point out that there is no objective, no purpose. There are scant systems and barely any mechanics aside from simple movement and the progression of time. There are no win conditions and no adversity. It has no explicit narrative. No set up, no arc and no conclusion. There’s no antagonist, no scoring system. No way of knowing if you’re succeeding or failing.

It’s ostensibly about nothing more than exploration. Each time you play it, you wake up off the shore of an island. It’s a different island each time, built around a few constants. There’s always a stone circle. Always a small group of totemic statues. Always something man-made – a small hut, some jutting ruins or a tower. There is always life – fauna and flora. Buzzing flies or fluttering insects. Hopping frogs or rabbits. Clucking chickens. Rustling trees, wavering flowers and fields of reeds. All rendered in a kind of pseudo-70s blocky computationally generated impressionism.

Each time you wade ashore and explore. There’s a day and night cycle that regularly inspires moments of peculiar beauty – quite an achievement given the absence of textures or anti aliasing. There’s weather, too. Occasional rain and mist that covers all raised ground, rendering it almost impossible to see. Wait for night time and make your way to the island’s stone circle to be caught up in the whirl of sparkling lights and witness the exponential speeding up of time as the screen whites-out and the island’s season changes.

Spring to summer. Summer to autumn. Autumn to winter. And then you ascend.

Proteus isn’t particularly subtle in its allusions. There’s no ambiguity as there was in something like Journey, for example. It’s relatively singular in how it might be perceived. You wake up, witness the progression of time; the rigours of nature and the contrast of life and death. You move through a landscape that’s unfamiliar and yet recognisable. You get lost. You get worried about finding your way back. You see new things and you rediscover old familiar things. And then you ascend. Every time.

Perhaps because of it being so generally aimless, it’s difficult to assign meaning to any of it other than the obvious loose allusion to the fleeting nature of our own mortality. With no signposting, it lacks focus and direction. You’re left in this occasionally psychedelic landscape to simply be. There’s no reason to do anything much.

So it’s a walk through a randomly generated island landscape with a location-sensitive soundtrack that plinks and screeches along with you as you visit different areas and encounter different elements of the environment. The music is best described as experimental, it’s procedural nature leaving little space for form or progression. It’s an often sparse collection of sounds and notes that will never be a foot-tapping iTunes release but compliments the odd visual style beautifully.

The two combine to provide a mood that really has no business being so firmly engendered with only the simple ingredients Proteus provides. You’re only given blocky colours and twitching pixels to depict a landscape and ecosystem. Spatially diverse notes and noises to provide a tone. Then you’re left to wander.

At times, that might be simply tedious. At times it can be relaxing, immersive and enveloping. Proteus is a warm bath without a good book to read.

[drop2]The Vita version has a couple of nice little quirks to it. Sit down with a press of the X button and the rear touchpad can be caressed into remixing the colours of the landscape. The right shoulder button snaps a postcard image of the current view that you can then view off the intro screen and instantly return to that location. The left shoulder button allows a brief moment of motion sensitivity for the look controls. There’s also something going on with the touchscreen, which issues a little circle of agitated air when you touch it, zeroing down to a fine point.

The PlayStation versions also allow for island generation based on the date and the Vita version can use your location too. The several islands I tried out with the Vita’s location data were all very different from each other and as similar as ever to the randomly generated ones so there’s no real benefit from doing this but it is a harmless option to have on a location-aware device.

So there are a few little tweaks for the PlayStation release of this title but the core remains as ethereal and elusive as the PC original. Whether you would enjoy this experience is an intrinsically personal decision but if inspiring thought and discussion about the nature of videogames and interactive media was a goal for the developers, they’ve certainly succeeded.

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11 Comments

  1. I still can’t quite make up my mind about this although i notice it has a small discount on PS+ at the moment .. but it still sounds kind of ‘lite’ as an experience.Hmmm..

  2. my god, sounds like the most boring, pointless thing imaginable. surey there’s got be some sort poit to it or some form of endgame?

    • ‘point’

    • And I thought Journey looked boring!
      It does look pretty pointless considering there’s no goals or anything, I certainly wouldn’t call it a ‘game’.

      • Depends on how you define ‘game’ guys. It’s not for everyone but I thought it was pretty interesting.

      • Yeah of course, the definitions of ‘game’ are very loose, the same way you can argue what exactly defines ‘art’.
        For me, I think there needs to be a certain level of interaction between the user and the environment, with more complex gameplay mechanics or some sort of goal for something to be considered a game.

      • If you thought Journey looked boring you’ve missed out mate….

  3. If you want a game roaming around random generated worlds surely minecraft? This just looks meh? Be interested to read some reviews though.

  4. As much as I’d like to try it, I can’t justify it at that price.

  5. I’ve played though it twice today after getting it last night. Both playthroughs were about 30mins each. It is impossible to define but there were times where it was emotional. Not quite as emotional as Journey but as you flow through the map, the changing of the seasons, the change in the ambiance created by the music, the changes on the map (I’m trying not to give too much away) work well together. Don’t think of it as a game going into it. Go in looking just to relax, explore and let the game do it’s thing. It won’t be for everyone but there is something there.

  6. £8.09 was just low enough for me (plus discount). Amazing experience… Not an amazing game as such.

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