While at the first Indie Connect festival in Berlin – where Proteus picked up the prestigious Most Amazing Game award – I stumbled my way to a dark corner of the exhibition room to where I had heard that Proteus was available to play. Of course, someone had beaten me to it and was sitting there, all smarmy. I took the defeat well and proceeded to lay back and watch him play the game, despite the headphones meaning I couldn’t soak up the audio accompaniment.
Fifteen minutes passed and this guy was still drifting around inside Proteus, the game’s lo-fi graphics flaunting pinks, greens and blues that fascinated both of us. Then, the gentle movement across the hillside onscreen came to a halt – this had happened a few times previously but only served as a means to thoroughly absorb the landscape during moments atop elevated viewpoints. Sensing that this was an elongated pause, I glanced across to find that the guy was slumped back, eyes closed and breathing heavily. I couldn’t believe it! Proteus had actually caused him to fall asleep. Those around him fulfilled their job in mocking him, to which he responded with embarrassment and the thrusting of the gamepad in my direction.
[private_insider] From this moment on, playing Proteus was not just about acquiring as many details about the experience of playing it as possible – it was now also a challenge to resist its sleep-inducing lures. Don’t take that the wrong way though; this is not a boring game, just a very relaxing experience, gloriously so.
If we’re getting down to it then, a fair one word summation of Proteus is “magical”. That pretty much encapsulates the whole game from its visual presentation, sound design and gameplay experience. It’s completely wrong to divide it up as that previous sentence does, though. More so than most games, Proteus is an amalgamation of components that sit so strong on their own but form something entirely absorbing when together. It grabs you from the moment you enter the game, the screen mimicking the opening of a tired eye, blinded by the rays of the sun. All around you is water, glistening in the light and serenading your ears with a pleasant splashing sound. From there, any attempt at movement simply moves you in one direction – towards the island upon which you’ll spend this vacation.
You don’t really step on the land, though; the feeling is that you glide just a couple of inches above it. This is intricate to getting the most out of Proteus, as well as setting your sensitivity as low as possible so there are no jerky movements to interrupt the game’s gentle verisimilitude. Wearing headphones isn’t essential but comes highly recommended. Yes, like the very top tier of gaming experiences, Proteus has an optimal set-up to get the most out of it.
With nothing to do except move around, you’ll soon begin exploring your randomly generated island through sheer curiosity, drawn the direction of whatever looks the most beautiful. This may be a clump of pink leaved trees that are blossoming in the Spring, a hillside that promises a wondrous view or a white sparkle from a small creature hiding in the shade. It’s not just the visual splendor that stands out, though. In fact, without the sounds, the visuals lack a lot of their appeal. There’s a definite marriage between what you’ll see and what you’ll hear in Proteus, but the audio really stands out the most. Closing your eyes just to hear the electronic whirs and ascending strings delivers an experience near on-par with your eyes opened, merely because the sounds paint such a vivid picture of paradise for your mind to cling on to.
It’s very difficult to portray the feeling that Proteus gives you through mere words and pictures. It makes me want to write poetry to describe it but even that wouldn’t cut it – this truly is a gaming experience, as in it needs to be played to be understood. The reason for that is because the game’s audio complements your movements and the sights you see in such a unique way. “Onomatopoeic” may be the most appropriate word. Subtle sounds are attached to the rainfall, falling snow and moving above and under clouds. Then there’s the various playful creatures – some will run away, while others, like the bees, will embrace your presence and give a chorus. The surroundings are an orchestra and you the conductor; baton swishes realised through navigation.
Though the game may sound like a completely open-ended affair, there is actually a procession of events that will call you over when the time comes. During these you’ll be moved through the seasons, each of which come with their own tone via the sounds and things you’ll likely see. Bees can be found in the summer, snow in the winter and blossom in the spring. There are some familiar sights seen throughout the entire game, though, such as a circle of statues that cause the stars in the night sky to dazzle you in a unique moment. There are a few of these special moments that require certain pre-requisites to be realized so, mostly, you’ll be frolicking with the lively creatures or staring at a sea of clouds as you spend a moment atop the highest peaks on the island. It’s all glorious though and so damn chill.
My recommendation is that you pick up the beta version of Proteus and play through it to really understand it. A preview full of praise is all well and good, but it doesn’t compare to the experience itself. The game is a little slice of heaven brought down for us mortals to wander around in for a short time. You’ll likely visit over and over again just to be put back into that trance like state, completely oblivious to the woes of reality around you. Bliss.
[/private_insider] Proteus can be pre-ordered over on its official website, which is where you’ll also find more information.