More than a game, Proteus is an experience, one that would qualify as “semi-interactive”. You start your exploration in the ocean, near an island. Your “task” is to explore that island. There is no game-like goal here, but only a certain location to find, that will make the environment reach its next stage. After several of those transitions, you’ll have “completed” your journey. Clearly, the interest of Proteus doesn’t lie in its mechanisms. The idea is that the path to those specific locations will be paved with wonderful details for you to discover. The journey itself is its own reward.
The sense of wonder begins with the sight-seeing. Proteus uses a first-person perspective with graphics that evoke the 8-bit era. Imagine what an Atari 2600 (VCS) game would look like if that system had 3D capabilities, and you will probably have a pretty good idea of what the experience looks like. This is a good concept, with one important caveat (explained below), and one that works very well in the beginning. The retro appeal is immediate!
The music/sound design is something special as well. It can best be described as an ambient soundscape, with a fantastic twist: most elements in your field of vision have a distinct impact on the music. This strongly reinforces the otherworldly sensation.
So what is there to discover on the island? In short (and to avoid spoilkers): fauna, flora and other landmarks. In the beginning, all of those elements are pleasantly eerie. You’ll probably find several of those brilliant little touches every minute. After 10 to 15 minutes, though, those occasions for wonderment will grow thinner and thinner. And advancing the journey/island to the next stage sadly doesn’t introduce enough significantly different stuff to sustain interest.
I did make an important discovery while playing Proteus: It’s possible for a game to give me motion sickness. Now, before you discard that remark as something that does not concern you, let me assure you that I have no particular vulnerability to this ailment. I’ve never felt sick on a boat, I’ve never felt motion sickness in front of a movie or a game before, I can even wear 3D glasses for hours on end without feeling the slightest discomfort. I think I know what makes Proteus different, though. You see, motion sickness happens when your eyes and inner ear send conflicting signals to your brain about your position and movement. In theory, all first-person games could cause it: your eyes would say “Hey, you’re running!” while your inner ear would object: “no way, you’re just sitting on a chair!” Those conflicting messages cause confusion within the part of your brain that manages balance, and the ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ will exert revenge on your stomach, causing nausea. Some brains being more vengeful than others, people have different levels of tolerance for those conflicting messages.
Now, in Proteus, the ground in your field of view is often composed of a big single stretch of plain colour, with no shading or nuance. So that when you are walking, objects like trees appear to move towards you, but the ground does not. Which means that even your eyes are sending conflicting messages by themselves, thereby increasing the potential for motion sickness. Being no MD, I cannot guarantee this is the actual reason, but a quick search on Google should be enough to convince you that at the very least, Proteus causes more cases of motion sickness than most other games.
I therefore cannot recommend Proteus. It can make you feel awful for quite some time, and the risk is simply not worth taking: despite its short length (it takes about one hour to reach the ending), the delightful details that reward your exploration are not frequent enough. The developers have said that you don’t get to see everything in the game during a single playthrough, but I’m certainly not masochistic enough to investigate that claim.
Posted: November 30th, 2013