I’m sure you’ve noticed, if you’ve spent any reasonable amount of time on the internet, that it’s rather a cliché to say that a piece of media is like another piece of media made on a particular drug. It’s one of the more lazy comparisons, used to avoid having to describe something on its own merit while simultaneously showing off the reviewer’s being comparatively well versed in their subject to the degree where they assume everyone else has played the same things as them.
It would be unprofessional and trite, then, for me to say that Proteus is like Minecraft on LSD. However, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to make the statement that Proteus is one of the maddest experiments with a medium that I’ve ever experienced. Here’s why.
When you first open up Proteus, you’ll notice that it’s hard to define what genre it fits into. Adventure. Puzzle. Music? None of these are really applicable. In fact, whether it’s a game or a piece of inventive ambient music generation software is worthy of fierce debate and I’m likely to come down on the latter side of the fence. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, as will come to be discussed.
The scenario goes thus: your character strolls around a brightly coloured island full of mountains, trees and ruins, constructed in the pixelly style which seems so popular with the indie crowd at the moment. The environment the character is in, as well as other factors like the weather and the items they interact with, generate rather ethereal music as they go by.
The island is small – it probably won’t take more than an hour to walk around the whole thing, and that’s with a punishingly slow movement speed. This means that while the music generated is nice and variables such as time of day offer a lot of possibilities, it’s sometimes hard to maintain interest once you’ve found every grain of weird interactivity.
The graphics are nice though, and for the time you spend exploring you’ll certainly appreciate reaching night time and watching the mesmerising shooting stars as they burn across the sky. A pink sunset over the gently blossoming trees is a particularly gorgeous sight and one worth seeing, one of the things which makes me think this is a game designed to get you to sleep after a particularly adrenaline-filled session of [insert shooter franchise du jour here].
Still, I can’t help but get the feeling it’s all a little bit pretentious. I’ve certainly been one to sing the praises of interaction and exploration over bombastic set pieces in modern gaming, and it’s nice to see an independent developer making something unique, but it just isn’t very enjoyable.
Don’t misunderstand me, of course. I think it achieves its purpose, even does it quite well. It’s just that the purpose was never very deep or workable to begin with and this limitation is always present. If To The Moon was the icing on the cake, Proteus goes straight through the cake, table and carpet and gets stuck in the wintry earth – there’s little to back it up and while it’s fun to explore for a little bit it’s easy to tire of such pointlessness.
The point of Proteus seems to have been less about creating an enjoyable player experience and more about pushing the limits of what can be achieved with the medium. That’s fine. All aspiring developers do it. It’s the same as a film student experimenting with his camera and all the different filters. But he wouldn’t take the resultant incoherence and release it in cinemas worldwide – the skill is there, but it hasn’t been attached to a coherent narrative and crafted into something worthwhile yet. As it is, Proteus feels like wandering around an empty film set before the actors have got there. Something exciting might happen eventually, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.
I can’t blame the developers. After all, they’re clearly excited about their technological prowess and, forgivably, want to share that with the world. However, I feel a free tech demo in the vein of Minecraft might have been better placed than having people shell out £7 on Steam for an as-yet-unproven idea. And that, friends, is the only comparison I’ll make. Better luck next time – 4/10.