Emerging from the sea with no clear idea of what you are supposed to be doing, you nudge the analog stick forwards, and begin a slow crawl towards the sun-kissed island on the horizon. Upon hitting terra firma, you find yourself on a technicolour 8-bit archipelago during glorious, blooming, pixellated springtime. While the design cues come from the retro Commodore 64 games of ancient times past, everything feels very much at home on a modern console. You soon learn that this brave new world is a shape-shifting, constantly evolving entity, and that intuitively exploring your environs is a soothing, ambient treat. Gameplay barely gets more complicated than simply wandering around in awe, taking in the scenery and marvelling at the oddly soothing soundtrack, which actually appears to change depending upon your movements and what you interact with.
It may seem abstract and the concept will be absurd to those used to being led by the hand and told what to do and who to aim weapons at. But there is a many-layered underlying depth to Proteus that becomes apparent after you spend more time investigating its mysteries. The experience is procedurally generated, meaning that every time you start over you will be waving goodbye to the island you have just explored forever. Interacting with objects or the strange flora and fauna will cause the aural accompaniment to veer into new tangents. Following a bouncing creature around the island has a feel of Alice instinctively chasing the white rabbit that serves as a catalyst for her ensuing adventure. The conclusion here is less dramatic but pursuing the odd island denizen will spark a series of catchy, plinky-plonky notes that fold seamlessly into the musical score. Moving close to an ominous group of menhir stones or standing underneath a cherry tree in the throes of glorious blossom will have an entirely different effect.
Eventually you will work out a way to change the seasons, which brings the experience closer to its conclusion. Once you have cycled from Spring to Winter, Proteus comes to an end. Most run-throughs will last little more than half an hour, yet no two are the same, and thanks to the way you randomly discover new, enchanting secrets the more you delve into the intriguing pixel-art universe, you feel inclined to stick around and find out what will happen the next time you wander to shore under the gaze of that wonderfully childlike yellow ball of a sun. You will find yourself scaling mountains and watching an oddly beautiful sunset with a sense of awe. You will marvel at the way the clouds burst with rain, and become entranced gazing into the starry night skies, and feel the thrill of encountering luminous, singing entities that come alive when bathed in the ethereal moonlight. You may feel, as I did, a creepy chill when you encounter what appears to be a remnant of civilisation, and the crackling, bleeping, propulsive chiptunes come to an unnerving halt.
Proteus is another indie title that wowed PC gamers before making the transition to console, and it is not difficult to see why the decision was made to port it across. Its spiritual cousin, Journey, was a huge success that proved gamers are willing to open their hearts to new concepts that test the boundaries of what a game can be. In ancient Greek mythology, Proteus was a shape changing God christened The Old Man of the Sea by the poet Homer. His name gave birth to the adjective protean, a word with connotations that are overwhelmingly appropriate when describing the world that Ed Key and David Kanaga have fashioned.
VERDICT: By discarding any semblance of plot, characterisation and conventional mechanics, Proteus is a brave and highly original title that forces you to use your imagination, and forges unforgettable memories through simple exploration and a sense of wide-eyed, almost childlike wonder. Everyone who plays Proteus is richly rewarded by an entirely unique, deeply personal experience that is defined by how they choose to approach it. If this is the way that games are heading, then the future is a place as bright and magical as these wonderfully realised, ever-changing islands .
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.