It's a tough mentality to get into – we're used to charging through games and just having fun with them. But Proteus, I think, is a great place to start. It's so beautiful and encompassing, and there's so little else to do, that you have to stop and look around at it.
And in fact, it does reward your curiosity. Exploring a new area “unlocks” a few more bars from Kanega's excellent soundtrack. You don't just look at a squirrel. You hear it bounce away like it's walking on a keyboard, and listen to how it complements the rest of the games' sound. That's how the game feeds back to you.Proteus is a game that demands your careful consideration of it, and rewards your patience with images and sounds. It's subtle, but it's teaching you to appreciate the work of the game designer, and to play in a way that will help you get the most from more narratively involved games.
Perhaps that's why the island is never the same. A single playthrough of Proteus will take about three-quarters of an hour, but the next time you load it up, the environments will be completely changed. You never play the same island twice, so there's no way for you to “learn” it; no way you can just skip and still feel like you've seen it. For people who demand longevity, that kind of procedural redesigning makes Proteus worth playing again and again. For people who enjoy exploration, and appreciate that the best way to play videogames is stop and look around at them, here's a game filled with endless curiosities.
As for complaints, well, even for an exploration junkie like me, Proteus can be a little trying at times. It is very slow, and although I appreciate the lack of direction, and the engagement it encourages, where you need to go and what you need to do could be more clearly signposted.
I'm also not so hot on the Vita version. Proteus is a game about looking around to see things and the stubby analogue sticks on Sony's handheld aren't really conducive to movement. The PS3 version is fine and on an HD telly looks even more glorious than the PC original. But on Vita, Proteus is a little fiddly.
Nevertheless, I admire Proteus a great deal. Other than walk and look, there aren't any mechanics to speak of. That, coupled with the basic, pixellated graphics, may lead you to think that this is an empty experience, another example of pseudo-arty froth, like Journey. But no. Proteus is a smart and demanding game that asks searching questions about players and videogame storytelling. It may test your patience but I think that's the point.