Originally launched in 2013, Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus is perhaps the most overlooked ‘walking simulator’ in recent memory. This delightful experience captured the attention of those that played it with its distinct visual style and ambiguous exploration. Back in 2014, I got to revisit the title with the first development kit for the Oculus Rift (DK1). Sadly, it’s not clear if an official port is still going ahead, but the sense of rediscovery it gave me makes me hope for the best.
Each playthrough of Proteus is set on a procedurally generated island that’s filled with amazing sights and mysterious easter eggs. In my short time with it in VR, I was treated to sunny fields in which 2D critters bounded along in front of me while the surreal, almost robotic soundtrack seemed to react to where I walked and what I approached. It was one of the first times I became truly lost in a VR world, completely detached from the studio that I was playing it in and ready to embrace the warmth of that day and the carefree attitude it inspired.
Quite simply, it was a lovely place to visit in VR. That visual style, which assaults the eyes with colours so happy you could forget all your troubles, makes for one of the most unique sights yet seen in a head-mounted display (HMD). The 2D blades of grass and flowers that pepper the area invite you to stop and play with them as you dart from side to side, while blossoms spiral towards the ground from spritely tree tops. Across the island are monuments, towers and more that pull you over to inspect and wonder – why are these artefacts here? What purpose do they serve?
VR drives this exploration forward, and brings new life to a world that many of us will have already seen and an extra reason to visit for those that haven’t. As you transition into other seasons and times, you feel the world around you morph into something else, its atmosphere shifting to give you a different sense of wonder. Your world is changing here; it’s not like moving into a new level but instead living within an area that you see warp over the course of a year. It’s a remarkable experience.
While Proteus might not necessarily be redefined in VR like some titles such as Surgeon Simulator are, there’s nothing else quite like it that fans can yet visit. Again, I don’t know if this project is still going ahead, but I’d certainly pay another visit if it is.