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Preview: Proteus

Even after three playthroughs, Proteus remains something of a mystery. First reaching PC in late January 2013, this is a procedurally generated experience in which players explore a relatively small island. In a sense it’s reminiscent of 2012’s Dear Esther in that all you can do is simply take in the sights, though in reality the vivid pixel art, lack of direct narrative, surreal audio and constantly-changing world make it a different beast. Now a small team is porting original developers Ed Key and David Kanaga’s vision to virtual reality (VR) with Oculus Rift-compatibility. An early hands-on suggests that this new version is set to add another layer to this small ‘2D’ treat.

Proteus_2Proteus is the type of title that’s different for everyone. That has two meanings, one of which being that the island is literally different in every new run through. The other concerns what players might get out of Proteus and its subtle, beautiful experience. As you tour the surroundings you’ll uncover strange landmarks and astonishing sights that, depending on your progress, might trigger certain events. There are only a handful of these moments so it’s not a good idea to spoil any of them, and most were yet to be implemented into the VR update.

A distinctive visual style gives Proteus much of its sense of wonder, but you wouldn’t think it lends itself to VR. While boxy trees dot the landscape and distant mountains give a great sense of scale, many of the title’s assets are flat images. Tufts of grass stubbornly prop themselves up while bright flowers add a little variety to the sea of green stretching out in front. When up close, there’s a strong illusion that these decorations really are sitting in front of you, inviting you to peer down and inspect them.

The port really proves its worth in Proteus’ more tranquil moments. After a short amount of time exploring, a sort of portal will open up on the island, allowing you to change to a different season. This portal is surrounded by bright, swirling lights. It’s easy to get lost in their movements as you sit on top of a hill. In fact, the VR effects are best viewed when higher up; a short trip up the side of the mountain provides a stunning vista with an enormous sense of depth. The weather occasionally brings rain down over your head while tree leaves will also gently flutter toward the ground, both of which look great in VR. Water skims past your eyes and dancing leaves invite you to reach out to play with them.

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Proteus will certainly be worth taking another look at when its VR update is finished. As the experience stands now, the unique visuals and surreal events will leave an impression on you that few titles can. While VR may not prove to be integral to the experience, it promises to add a curious new perspective to a title that invites more than one look. VRFocus will keep you up to date with the project’s development leading up to release.