When Proteus was made free with Playstation Plus, I immediately swooped in and downloaded it. I am not only an avid gamer, but a self-proposed open-minded gamer. I will try anything, and I generally like to sink my teeth in before I conclude with a final opinion. That said, occasionally a game strikes me so rapidly and so fiercely that I needn’t delve deeper, as the way in which it presents itself is abundantly clear, for better or for worse.
Proteus made me feel overwhelming annoyance with not only the developers that created it, but with a certain recent trend in this industry. Proteus is hardly a game, it is not an ‘experience’, it is simply shovelware that serves no purpose except for the ‘deeper meaning’ that the developer has tried oh so vehemently to shove down your throat. It’s pretentious at best, and the movement of ‘art game experiences’ needs to either expand to have real purpose, or stop.
A quote directly from the official Proteus website states that the game is based around discovery and exploration, but I feel that I must ask one simple question. What are you discovering exactly?
In Proteus, you walk around a randomly-generated island that, when the objects therein are approached, present different, distinct audio ques. The idea is that as you are traversing the land, the soundtrack will develop and change depending on what you, the ‘player’, do.
For example: walk up to what appears to be a frog, and as it jumps, a sequence of sounds emerge, all of which coincide with the overall soundtrack that the world itself gives off. Each object, from pieces of grass to animals, have their own sound.
Beyond simply walking and approaching objects, there is absolutely nothing to do in Proteus. Once you have installed and turned on the game for the first time, you will have understood absolutely everything this ‘game’ has to offer. It’s charming at face value, and the sounds and art are as beautiful as they are endearing, but it wears thin within mere moments. A game cannot survive on the way it looks or the way it sounds, it needs much more than that.
With a game that is based on exploration, you need purpose, you need drive. There has to be something subconsciously (if not bluntly) telling the player to progress, and simple sounds and cues will not do that for anybody. My favourite example of an art game done correctly, Journey, excelled at exploration and discovery.
We’re given brief glimpses into the world of Journey. We see a mountain with an almost blinding incandescent light. We’re not told why we must seek answers at the mountain, and we’re not beaten over the head with exposition. Instead, we, as gamers, are intrinsically driven (and encouraged masterfully by thatgamecompany) to seek the unknown. Journey offers one single visual cue that will encourage anyone to trek the land, but Proteus offers nothing.
You will never find answers for your journey (no pun intended), nor will you have some reveal or reward for your dedication, you will only ever be offered audio cues, and slight objects to behold, and this is the problem.
What were the developers of Proteus trying to portray? what message was being given? I, as much as I attempted to find answers to these questions while playing, could not find a single hint. The only thing that I felt playing Proteus, was that they managed to create the most bare-boned, shallow ‘experience’ that I’ve yet to play on the Playstation 3.
Proteus is no Journey, it is no Minecraft, and unlike those two experiences, it has no message, reward, or goal. It exists, much like the empty and uninspired world that the game presents, and we have absolutely no reason to ever set foot in it.