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You awake surrounded by water, with only a faint glimmer of land on the horizon. Slowly wading in that direction, you then find yourself on an island inhabited by vibrant trees and small animals, all of which look like they were spawned by some mythical pairing of an Apple II with a modern 3D graphics card. As you wander the terrain, each nearby element adds to the overall soundscape, creating fractured electronic music from your exploration. After some time, night falls and the trees start to dance, while a large swirl of lights in one location heralds the unknown. Do you dare step in and see what happens?
That's the first 15-or-so minutes of Proteus, an experiential indie game from Ed Key and David Kanaga that at first might seem cut from the same cloth as Minecraft, what with its minimal, retro-fabulous landscapes. But there's no building or battling here, or really any threats at all. There is plenty of life on the procedurally generated island, though, both in terms of the animated creatures and perky presentation. Hopping frogs and darting squirrels add lively tones to the ever-changing soundtrack, and curious aural cues help pull you in all directions.
Proteus is all about taking in the surroundings and navigating as desired, but while it's free of overt objectives, calling the game aimless is a little misguided. You can trigger a change of season — complete with a unique color scheme, creatures, and music — at certain points, and the game does have an ending; depending on how quickly you push through the four seasons, a typical playthrough runs about 45-60 minutes. It's an enrapturing audio/visual experience — a soothing and stress-free journey that you can dive into (ideally with headphones) and enjoy, and then do it all over again on a newly generated map with fresh sights and sounds.
The bottom line. While limited in scope, those with a keen eye and an open mind may find this wandering game filled with wonder.
Mac OS X 10.6 or later, 2Ghz CPU, 3GB RAM
Lo-fi sights and sounds can be enrapturing. Changing seasons and surprise ending keep you exploring 'til the conclusion (and then again). Highly unlike any other game.
Little more to it than wandering and exploring the terrain. Wish there was more variation in sights between playthroughs.