Roger Ebert once said that video games could never be art. While Ebert meant games that are considered "fun to play" are unartful, it was a gross underestimation of how the gaming industry would develop over the next decade. In the past 5 years alone, the independent development scene has become the place for experimentation in game design and the shifting of games to art. One of the more intriguing titles to buck the Ebert generalization is Ed Key and David Kanaga's Proteus, a weird, whimsical, and wonderful experience.
Describing Proteus is a challenge. I can tell you it's an exploration game in the vein of Dear Esther. You walk around as an unnamed avatar on a mysterious, beautiful island. But Proteus is a very different animal than the melancholic, lonely experience Esther provides. Proteus is all about instilling joy, tranquility, and wonder in players. It's not unlike lying up on a roof and staring at the stars above saying, "Wow, that's amazing!"
The first thing you'll notice is the distinct visual style. It looks like an Atari 2600 game modeled in 3D. The island is bathed in pastel colors and looks as if someone deconstructed a real island and remade it from squares and basic shapes. It's a work of art in motion as the trees rustle, leaves glide gently to the ground, and small creatures jump to and fro. Walking around, you can chase animals and take in the wonderful vistas from (what I assume are) mountain peaks.
In the background, David Kanaga's soundtrack steadily pulses. As you interact with animals, the noises they make wonderfully build on the music. It's a symphony that you create, and each animal has its own unique sound as it shies away from you. The soundtrack and audio design combine with the visuals to create an enrapturing experience. Even though Proteus is still in beta, it's a fantastic taster of what's to come from Ed and David.
If you're still not convinced that Proteus is for you, check out the Youtube trailer below. It gives you an idea of the basic experience while saving the hidden secrets for when you actually play. If you do take a bite of the good fruit, be prepared for a journey that's as directed and straight-forward as you want it to be. It's best if you explore and see what the island has to offer. You never know what Proteus will unveil for you next!