In a world of multi-screening where nobody seems to do anything without multitasking, Proteus offers one of the biggest challenges to a modern world junkie, the ultimate achievement of being left to your own devices with nothing to do. There are no rewards, no XP, no quests, no combat, no achievements and you can’t even pick up a stick and craft your initials into the bark of a tree. It is an audio-visual exploration and discovery game and it is a sublime experience every time around.
I wake up waist deep in water and across the blue I can just about make out the shape of an island. I wade onto its shore and in front of me is a whole world waiting to be explored and discovered. Each time Proteus begins like this and its always spring, but then it changes.
The procedurally generated world refreshes and renews and each time I return I am back on an island, one of an infinite number of similar but not the same islands floating just out of sync in a universe made up of isolated little islands drifting in space. That is how I think of my various different playthroughs of Proteus. I only have this one opportunity to visit this particular not-same place. In many ways, it is this similar but not the same element that keeps me coming back.
Reasons to play it
It’s a game for everyone
Proteus is a game that holds its charm in the experience of playing. Watch a video of the game and it looks boring, but look at the person playing and you will probably find someone enthralled by its appeal. Ed Key, the developer, is reported as saying: “There’s a general thing where someone says ‘I played it for 5 minutes and I was about to turn it off. I thought it was pointless. But then something sucked me in and forty minutes later I was still exploring it.’ Those times when someone doesn’t think they’ll like it but they find themselves engaged, those are the most rewarding.” It doesn’t matter if this is your type of game or not, whether you’re two or twenty, thirty five or ninety, there’s something for everyone to discover and enjoy.
Just a bit more
I played quite a bit of Proteus with my two-and-a-bit year old daughter who loves it for very different reasons than I do. She chase clouds and sits under a tree watching the night sky. She runs and explores: “Trees!”, “Flowers”, “Crabs?”, “Rabbit!”, “Sky”, “Clouds”, “Owl”, “Snow. Snow! Mummy! Snow!” She swirls the mouse and runs in circles, then slows down, stops and looks intently at the screen: “Where’s snowman?” She smashes the cursor key and starts running again, searching and then the seasons change: “Oh no! Where snow gone?” She flicks the mouse to turn and run back trying to recapture the wintry scenery with the snowflakes that make her reach out her hand and touch the screen. “Snow gone.” She looks a little sad, but then sees a bird in the sky. “Birdie? Birdie! Owl!” and runs towards it, “Look! Owl! Owl! Owl!” and when its time to stop she sighs and says “Just a bit more?”. I take that back, maybe we do enjoy it for exactly the same reasons.
There is no save and this comes with some disadvantages. Each playthrough takes about 45 minutes. If you want to experience all that it has to offer, you either have to leave it running in the background until you return or find a quarter of an hour block of time to play uninterrupted. If you enjoyed a particular moment or season, it’s not possible to save and return to that spot later on. It can be frustrating on later playthroughs when you start looking for specific things. My daughter loves snow and owls and when we have five minutes to play, I yearn for a save feature so that I can load up the parts she enjoys the most.
Limited sound options
Sound Options are usually an accessibility feature, but as the sound is such an integral part of the experience, it is much more than that. The soundtrack is exquisite but linear. There is no option to turn off the music and listen to the sound effects as they are one and the same, but I like to do just that. I’m not sure if this is even a legitimate point, the special effects are such an integral part of the soundtrack and maybe it is the prerogative of the creators to say we want you to have the full experience, not allow you to chop parts out. I enjoy ambient music but the world can be busy and chaotic and on some playthroughs, it would have been amazing to have the ability to just stand in a forest and have a creature appear with the ping! ping! jumping sound surrounded by silence.
Photophobia/Light Sensitivity (A common symptom of a migraine, seizure disorders, dyslexia, autistic spectrum disorders, cataracts)
Amazingly accessible with no flash or flicker and entire island is easy to tolerate and enjoy. It is a must-play game demonstrating that it is possible to create a fantastic world with beautiful visuals that elicit a strong emotional response and provides a satisfying and engaging experience without resorting to neon bright colours and strobe light effects.
There is movement, but only a rare few will suffer because of it. Proteus has obviously been designed with sufferers in mind and there are quite a few options that can help to negate it. The cursor can be turned on in the options menu (having a focus point can help). The camera is smooth and whether you are walking or looking or walking and looking, the world floats by naturally. The view point and movement is independently controlled and this makes it easier to tolerate. If you get motion sickness from walking and turning, try turning the mouse sensitivity down or using the keyboard to play and avoid moving and looking at the same time. Stop, then turn, then walk again. If you usually have no issues with walking from a first person perspective, you should be fine playing Proteus without any of the above. There is no jitter cam and movement is quite slow and can be further slowed down by using a repeated key press macro; but be aware that that will make it slightly less smooth.
Low Vision and Visual Field Defects
Proteus is one of the most accessible games available for anyone with a visual impairment. There is no user interface, no tiny reticules to look for and no complex text heavy menus written in tiny text. The cursor in the menu is large, white against a black or dark background and has tracking, so you won’t loose it on the screen. The text size is generous and for those with severe vision loss, the menu controls optional extras that you can play without. Start the game, click on the island and explore to your heart’s content – it doesn’t get any more accessible than that.
Colour Blindness (Colour Vision Deficiency)
Excellent accessibility with no no reliance on colour at all.
- Full Screen: Yes/No “If deactived, game will run in a window. Recommended: Yes”
- Fullscreen Resolution: “Screen mode when running in fullscreen. Recommended: 1920×1080
- Field of View: <Range of 60 – 110 in increments of 5, i.e. 60,65,70 etc> Recommended 60. Can be adjusted in-game with the , and . keys
- Extra Long Draw Distance: <On/Off > Recommended for more powerful PCs
- Crosshair <None / Faint / Solid > Not recommended, unless having a dot onscreen helps with motion (simulation) sickness
Information relevant to those who have a hearing impairment, experience problems with speech perception, suffers from tinnitus and the profoundly deaf.
Subtitles & Closed captioning
No dialogue, so there are no subtitles.
Reliance on auditory cues
All audio cues have a visual component, making it very accessible for anyone with any hearing impairment. There are no closed captions and in a title that is an audio-visual experience, they would have been an exceptional added feature. The music is the special effects and that makes it a difficult task, but still, when I watch an animal bounding away and hear the corresponding sound, I can’t help but wish for a few closed captions.
- The Options Menu has an “Other” tab that lists Audio: Master volume <0 – 100> “Master volume for all music levels. Recommended:100”
There is no requirement for twitchy reflexes. You can’t die, nothing attacks you and even if you run into a tree, as long as you keep moving forward, you will slide around it. If you want to chase things, you need to keep pace with them. That has somewhat of a time window, not all nature waits for mankind (some do), but it is a leisurely stroll and if you don’t chase owls and dragonflies, you can be as slow as you like. In fact, some of the best experiences to be had is finding a good perch spot and standing still or sitting down whilst watching the day turn into night then turn into day again.
Precision (Manual Dexterity)
There is a very minimal accuracy requirement to get where you want to go. Movement and viewpoint is independently controlled and you just have to be able to use either the analog sticks on a controller, a mouse or two sets of keyboard keys to enjoy the full experience.
One play through takes about 45 minutes, but you can dip and out for shorter sessions if you like. There is no pause and no save. The lack of a pause button is not a big deal, the most you may miss is a sunset or change of season that will come again as they do, but the lack of a save is a small frustration. If you want to play through the whole game, you either have to find 45 minutes in one block of time or leave the game running in the back-ground until you can get back to it.
Complexity of Controls
The game mechanics are simplistic with minimal input needed and clearly designed with players with disabilities in mind. There are no multi-presses or mashing. Movement and view point is controlled by either the controller analog sticks, the mouse, mouse and keyboard or keyboard only. The Options menu can only be accessed with a mouse, but game play is enabled for multiple devices. Even better, all devices work simultaneously.
The options to enable windowed mode under Graphics makes it possible to use third party software like an on-screen keyboard or dwell clicker. The Options Menu also has a Controls section with the following:
- Invert Y axis for mouse-look: <No/Yes> “If ‘Yes’, pushing up on the mouse will tilt the view downward and vice versa. Adjustable in-game by pressing Y.”
- Mouse look <On/Off> “Move the mouse to pan the view. Recommended: On. (For accessible controllers, e.g. gaze-tracking, it may be advisable to turn this off.)
- Mouse Sensitivity <Range from 0.1 to 1.0> “Recommendation depends on the mouse. Can be adjusted in-game with [ and ].
- Keyboard movement <WASD, None, Cursor Keys, IJKL > “Key bindings for moving the player.”
- Keyboard rotation <WASD, None, Cursor Keys, IJKL > “Key bindings for rotating the player.”
Very accessible for anyone with dyslexia or language based impairments. There is no language in the game. The menu has minimal text with basic instructions.
It is perfectly accessible with no significant reliance on memory.
Calculations and Currency
No calculations, use of numbers and no currency in the game. It is completely accessible to anyone with discalculia or other number and math-based issues.
Complexity and Support
Proteus has excellent support in place down to fine details such as the phrase “Click on the island to begin” that appears on the Start Menu. There is a Help option accessed from the Start screen that outlines and explain all control options and all choices in the Options Menu comes with an explanation and recommendation. Proteus is easy to understand and play, the controls are easy to learn and master and the support available helps players adjust the game to suit their needs. Run around, get lost, find a spot and sit down, explore – you can’t fail.
There is no social interaction. It is a solitary experience with no human NPCs, yet not a lonely experience in any way. Few simulations succeed in capturing the sense of contentment solitary exploration can offer and Proteus does just that. It might be single player only but nature makes the perfect companion.
- Help Option that explains the controls
Proteus is something different and something new. It is one of those games that will be talked about and played again for years to come. It’s a game that you cannot understand and appreciate without playing it and its sad to realize that many will pass it over just because nothing really happens when you watch a trailer or walk through video. Not an experience that can be observed by watching the screen makes it easy to miss out on.
If you want to see what it is like, watch the person playing it. Better yet. Play it. Play it. Play it. Play it. Play it. If you think it’s not for you, play it anyway. If it looks boring, play it anyway. Appearances can be deceiving. Play it anyway, even if it doesn’t look like your kind of thing. Whether you are a parent playing with a toddler, a first-person shooter only enthusiast or Facebook game fanatic, play it anyway. It is inexplicably hypnotic and poignantly beautiful.
Proteus was released on 30 January 2013 for PC. The game review is based on the PC (exclusive) version of the game.