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11 January 2015 @ 04:08 pm
Game review: Proteus  
I'd seen articles about Proteus for a while, but the $10 price tag always put me off. Partially because I'm still stuck in the trap of equating value of gaming money with time spent on the game, and partially because I'm a miser. But during one of the Steam sales the price went down to $2.50, and I couldn't say no to that price. I let it sit for a long while, loading it up briefly to wander around, but I was listening to podcasts (as is my custom) at the time, and so much of what's interesting about Proteus was lost when I wasn't really paying attention to the whole game. But last night softlykarou was at a party and I was home along, so I turned off the podcasts, loaded up the game, and set out.

When you start up, you're off the coast of a randomly generated island, and when you walk across the water toward it, you'll be greeted by something like this:

It reminds me of ohanami...

I'm a big fan of pixel graphics--I actually prefer the EGA version of Quest for Glory I to the VGA version--but I admit that Proteus's graphics are a bit too stylized even for me. I'd have preferred a little bit more detail, like maybe some obvious leaf delineation on the trees instead of having them all be a solid color, for instance. But I'm not going to talk too much about the graphics, because they're deliberately low-rez and the main point is to provide just enough information to fuel your imagination. Most of the feedback that the player gets during Proteus is in the form of sound and music, which is all procedurally generated based on what the player is doing and what's happening nearby.

I took a couple recordings of the gameplay to give you a better idea of how it works. Here's me wandering around near the beginning, during the spring daytime:

And here's me around seven minutes later, during spring night:

Everything that happens has a musical accompaniment of some sort. Those low humming sounds near the rocks, the tones when the rabbit-thing bounces, the chimes of rainfall, the babbling of the mushrooms before they hide, the kind of sparkly music when the lights rushed past at night, the hooting tones near the owl, and everything else you encounter. Night and day are different, and each season has a different timbre. If you're on the top of a hill, you might have almost perfect silence with the occasional whisper of sound as a cloud moves or as a shooting star streaks across the sky, and then a gradually-increasing rush of sound as you run down the hill and back into the forest.

The seasons I mentioned are the only real method of progression (though see below). On the island, there's a circle of stones, and that circle lets you advance the seasons, each of which has a different mood. Spring is bouncy and bubbly, summer is energetic, fall is mournful with a lot of minor tones, and winter is nearly-silent strings and quiet dischord. The landscape obviously changes as well, though it's mostly the colors and the animals that change. Here's a picture in the fall:

That's fog, not draw distance.

Fall is my favorite season in the real world, and wandering around with almost-melancholy murmurs while (albeit blocky) leaves fall from the trees was almost serene. In the fall almost all of the animals are gone, and in the winter they definitely are, so while the world sleeps and the land is shrouded in snow and clouds, you're wandering alone in the near silence. It's a great contrast to the bouncing energy of spring and summer, and even to its own season when the northern lights are shining in the sky. I normally think that movement in games is too slow and get annoyed unless I'm RPing walking around, as I've been known to do when selling things in Oblivion, but I almost thought the movement in Proteus was too fast. It turns out that Shift lets you slow down, and since you can control the whole game with the mouse, it's not as bad to walk around the forest as it would otherwise be.

Walking around isn't all you can do. There are some oddities on the island, like the stone tower that leads elsewhere, or the abandoned cabin, or the statues. During the day, it's nearly silent there, and everything is peaceful:

Bird thing, bull thing, and...Anubis?

But at night, things are...a bit different:

H͙̫̭̺̲̜e ͎͕w͔ẖ̩͉̹͈̥o̺͍͔ ̵͓̯͓̹Wa̬̪͖i̭͔̳̱t͖͈̯͘s͍̮̰̩̼̤̯ ̫͖̞̱̯B͏̲é̹̪̩͕̰̼h̷̥͍̬̭̼͙ͅi͏̥͈̹̟̰͓̭nd̪͚̟̻͙̰ ̙̼̫̜͙Ṭ͈̟̤̪̹͈ḫ͖͎̱̠e̥̟ ̼̮͔W͜a̗̱̣̗ḻ͇̱̞̗ḻ̺͔.͔͈̣̹̻̠ ̛̰Z̤̮̥͚̱̗̫A̮̭͚͎̹̰L͓̖̰̳̟̰̙͡G̻Ơ͙̮̩͖̘̜̠!͈͉̻̟͟ ̹̗͟H̸͚̰̹̫̝͔e̹̘ ̪̥͚̘̞c̷̤̲͍̤̪̮ọ̴̩m̖̱̮͟e̻̭̺͞ͅs͍͙̯̠!҉̳̲̳̳͈ͅ

What's not obvious in that picture is the stars pulsing like sirens as these odd shrill tones play. And apparently it's a good thing I ran down the hill and didn't turn around, because things can get weird.

I mentioned I finished the game on Twitter and fristle mentioned getting all the trophies nearly ruined the experience for him, and I went and looked it up and yep. That makes me wonder if Sony requires games to have trophies, because that seems to be missing the entire point of the game. The Steam version doesn't have achievements and it's a better game for it, because the entire point is lost if there are objectives you have to chase and boxes you have to tick. Having to spawn islands over and over and trying different things to make sure I got all of the trophies would absolutely shatter any mood the game had managed to create, and I'm glad that there wasn't anything like that. Sure, you can always not do them, but just including them is a statement about the game. Proteus on PC deliberate has no objectives beyond those the player sets, and while the game "ends," I read it as just the natural cycle of the seasons and not an accomplishment per se.

Iwas actually a lot more satisifed with the game than I had expected. Considering I'm usually the kind of person who installs difficulty/realism/"realism" mods in games and plays a lot of roguelikes, I didn't think I'd enjoy a game where the only point was to wander around and listen to the music, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least it's short. And already, that's a silly way to approach video games, and even more so in a game like Proteus where the point is to experience it (to the extent that's different from other games). I went through the four seasons so I'd know what they were all like, but I could have stayed with spring and fall for basically the whole game. I don't know that Proteus even needed an ending, though I appreciate that it provides a natural coda.

Goodnight, moon.

I originally figured I'd play through it to experience it, write about it, and then delete it from Steam the way I did with Dungeons of Dredmor, but I don't think I will. I can see myself wanting to play it again occasionally, on future occasions when I don't want to listen to podcasts and just want something simple to occupy my hands and mind.

Music while writing this was provided by the Purgateus OST, from a mod that turns Proteus into a blasted hellscape.
Current Mood: peacefulpeaceful
Current Music: aliceffekt - The Six New Gods