Pneuma: Breath of Life review

Reviews Xbox One Reviews

Pneuma. In Greek it means “Breath of life”, amongst other things. Which is handy, as the title of the game suggests exactly that. I wasn’t sure what to make of Pneuma if I’m honest. From the trailers it looked like Pneuma would be a pretty first-person puzzler with a crazy God-like voiceover with little substance. In many respects it reminded me of Total Eclipse 2 on the Amstrad. Appearances can be deceptive however, so did Pnuema meet, exceed or fall short of my expectations?

The opening number from Deco Digital and Bevel Studios starts you off in darkness. For a game that has hinted at being visually stunning, this might seem like an odd choice to make, but all will become clear, or lighter, eventually. The darkness slowly subsides, through the power of your character’s thought alone, it would appear and the game introduces you to the basic fundamentals of the controls before you get the opportunity to do anything else. This is a good thing and seeing as the controls have been stripped right back, this makes the game as simple to pick up as the aforementioned breathing. As this first level progresses, you’ll notice that the developers have a certain eye for detail.

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The graphics, then, as you run through this familiarisation with the controls and the environment, will strike you right in the mush. They are simply stunning. The polished stonework, buttons, stairs, walls, ceilings, corridors, plants are all perfect, as you’d expect if you’d created them yourself. There are imperfections though, and the way the good bits are excellent simply makes these look worse. The premise of this tale, as when you finish this Prologue, you’ll discover, is that you are as close to a god as you’re going to get. You’ve willed yourself into existence and now you’re on a journey to discover yourself and the meaning of everything you’ve attempted to achieve in your immediate environment. The world around you responds to you, not necessarily only by touch, seemingly by mere thought.

This Prologue introduces you to the basic controls in the game. The mechanics are simple enough. There are some symbols that require only your attention to interact with. There are glowing eyes that are the main interaction theme. The idea is that keeping these in focus will cause the target object to move or activate or do something spectacularly miraculous when you either look at them then move or look away from them. The latter is particularly amusing. It’s almost as if these objects are embarrassed by your gaze. The puzzles that you are to face throughout this game will be solved by a variety of these methods, or perhaps something different.

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How you solve these puzzles is left pretty much up to you. I’m fairly certain that there would be more than one way to solve specific puzzles, while some have a set resolution in order for you to progress. One thing I was disappointed with while solving the puzzles was the difficulty ramp. It does seem to be set at too gentle an angle and you’re three quarters of the way through the game before you feel like you’re being mentally challenged. The verbal hints help, even if they do sometimes verge on the irritating.

Pneuma is a Utopia graphically, with the visuals set around the classic Greek look. The audio, not so much. It’s more of a background amble from the local 6-piece orchestra overlaid by the voice of god. The penitent man would feel sorry for the voice-over artist, as throughout this game-long monologue, he’s had to keep an air of excitement around his performance, when listening to the nature of his dialogue, it must have been extremely difficult for him. I’m not saying that the dialogue is bad, it isn’t, it’s probably a little too deep for the average gamer to want to follow however. The pros and cons of being a deity and existentialism are not the everyday conversational habits of your average gamer.

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This, in truth, is about the only real gripe I have with Pneuma, although the dialogue does in some way give you hints about how you can solve the puzzle that is facing you, it is tightly woven into the ending of the entire game, which I won’t give away. Needless to say, the developers have obviously spent many nights pondering pre-destiny and whether life is driven in a spiritualistic way or whether we are masters of our own destiny. Pneuma may just get you answering the self-same questions after you’ve finished it too. And finish it you probably will. It’s an agonisingly short 8 levels, something that seasoned gamers will rack off in a single session, although there are extra achievement points to be had with some hidden bonus levels if you want them. Also, if I’m going to be hyper-critical then the loading times are a little on the lengthy side, but then, given all of that graphical goodness, perhaps that is to be expected.

I wondered if Pnuema: Breath of Life would meet my expectations. In some respects it did and then some. The graphics are nothing short of phenomenal. The lighting and reflections alone are worthy of a Hollywood studio, but all of that means nothing if the gameplay isn’t there. Thankfully for Pnuema, the gameplay is there and while the puzzles won’t need you to be the Einstein of lateral thinking, they get just enough on the devious side to be challenging by the end of the game. The voice acting is enthusiastic while the background melodies won’t earworm your day into oblivion. By far the most surprising thing for me though, was the way the storyline develops into an existential questioning of the role of developer, gamer and character and deciding for yourself who controls who in the worlds that are created for our enjoyment. The developers have been very clever in taking you on a fundamental ethereal journey through life as a gaming character but in reality is the character really a god or merely a puppet being controlled by some outside force?

Thanks to Deco Digital for supplying TiX with a download code

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A lifelong gamer, staring at the wrong side of the forties, I'm a huge Halo series fan. Started gaming way back in the days of the Amstrad CPC464. Midlander through birth, married with son, COD virgin, so be gentle. Twitter: @PhilK_TiX