Proteus Review (PC)

You wake. You are wading in a blue, 8-bit ocean. The blocky, aliased sun shines brightly above you. In the distance, a hazy form clutters the horizon. You approach, and the outline forms into an island. What is the island? Why is it there? Why are you there? Proteus offers no answers, only beckons you to explore her shores, her mountains, her ever-changing and fluttering array of flora and fauna that seem to exist for the oldest reason of all: merely to exist.

Proteus carries the torch from Dear Esther as the lightning rod for the endless “is it a game, is it art, is it nothing” debate. But where Dear Esther featured a patchwork narrative and carefully constructed setpieces, Proteus is random. Well, not quite random, but the experience will be different every time. As it explains to you, “each island is different, but familiar”. The themes are the same, the sights similiar, and the music and sounds too, which change procedurally as you navigate Proteus’ mysterious world as its seasons unfold, are both alien and comforting.

There are mysteries, too. Certain stones may appear which ring out a note. During certain seasons, visiting particular places on the island appears to activate events, some awe-inspiring, some borderline frightening, and one— well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

At this point, I call Proteus a success. The experience is not challenging, and I cannot call it a “game” per se, but the experience is memorable, and though there is virtually nothing to do, I have loaded the game up several times already. Why? Perhaps to, for one moment, escape humanity’s ego-driven thrust for the future, for more, for something else, and to join those procedural blips and bleeps in existing, to merely… exist.

And that’s when it all comes tumbling down, due to an event, a decision, a mis-step that must have been the result of a developer’s fever dream he was long unable to wake up from. At one point — I will not “spoil” it for you — one of the aforementioned events occurs, and you are taken from this peaceful island of tranquil existence into one of the most horrific, stygian nightmares, one of the most nauseating scenes I can remember in the history of computer games, and other media as well.

God, it is even hard to write about.

Trees replaced by screeching, mutilated humanoid figures, all engaged in a diapason of sodomistic, vomitous acts on each other, pixellated blood and offal smear the ground and the hills, as every variety of sadistic, perverted act is performed in front of you. Fauna transformed into vile, hideous creatures, guts pulled from their owners, sexual acts conceived and twisted from the bowels of some medieval torture chamber, the procedural pastural tones replaced with sickening slapping, burbling sounds, and the screams… god, the screams that never stop, only drill further into your brain as it attempts to make sense of the abject hellish horror taking place before you. After the shock wore off, it was seconds before this reviewer had to run to the restroom to empty my gurgling stomach, leaving my lunch in acid-soaked chunks all over the cold tile.

My requests to the developers for some explanation into this unspeakable mistake have not been returned. I can only hope they are in a period of reflection, or possibly psychiatric evaluation.


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