Winter in Proteus does not sing, as much as it jangles, whispers, heaves. It’s dark and dreary and the trees remind me of medusa heads. The days of summer owls and chirping mushrooms are long gone. But despite how blasted and apocalyptic it looks, it’s still awake. It rumbles and shivers. And even in stillness, the world breathes.
Proteus is a game of exploration, music, and ambient soundscapes. It is a total delight to explore, especially if you are feeling quiet and you have headphones at hand. And it makes me giddy in the same way that video games before the Internet made me giddy—"Did you know if you go here and you do this, then…"
To call it a game is maybe a little misleading, because there’s no overt objective and no conflict. But that’s really kind of what I like about it! At a time when I’m feeling like most video games are becoming more and more divergent from what I want to play, Proteus is totally uncompromising in its mystery and its total silence vis a vis thematic purpose. It's willing to treat its players like thoughtful, mature people who are willing to wholly engage in some really basic acts: walking, looking, listening. Nearly everywhere else, these are taken for granted. In Proteus, that’s all there is. And they turn out to be joyful and weird.
It all sounds a little fruity, honestly, and maybe I’m gushing a bit. Truthfully, there isn’t much beyond all that.
But then there was this: I sat on the beach at twilight and watched crabs play in the shallows, while storm clouds rolled in with the night. It was genuinely beautiful. How many other games have that?
See also: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, another choice 2012 title, which trusts players to not only make their own decisions, but to take responsibility for consequences both good and ill. The result: perfect measures of bitter defeat and hard-earned triumph. ↩
One thing that I haven’t talked about: the music. This is because it is really, really hard to talk about. But here goes: it changes. It’s tactile. It’s kind of like someone whispering in your ear. You can feel it in your shoulders. ↩