Pneuma: Breath of Life Review

By Marc Hollinshead, 1 year ago
Nowadays, we are saturated with a multitude of games that ask us to learn all sorts of button combinations and controls that need to be implanted in our memory so we can continue playing. As gaming advances, so do the controls, and so we are forever having to navigate and complete tutorials in order to successfully understand the way the game works. However, what if there was a game that used the most basic function in gaming and turned it into the core mechanic? Let's welcome Pneuma: Breath of Life into the fray, the latest title to come out of the ID@Xbox program. This intriguing puzzler uses the idea of observation in order to solve its mysteries but is it something worth keeping your eye on, or is it not even worth a second glance?


Pneuma: Breath of Life has you taking control of Pneuma, an entity who appears to be the god of the game's universe. From the moment the game begins, this comedic deity starts to question what is happening and why it is happening in the way it is. As you move Pneuma through each of the puzzles, he enlightens players through a number of quirky monologues. These range from him reaching the conclusion that he causes the universe to move around him when jumping, or that he cannot create a companion better than himself due to him being the supreme creator of everything. Instead of providing players with a silent protagonist who is there merely as a vehicle to move through the puzzles, the developers have created a humorous narrator to keep us fully engaged. Whenever Pneuma speaks, he sounds like a child who is exploring the many mysteries of the world. Due to the fact that he is the only being in the entire game, he needs to be interesting. Fortunately, he is.


The puzzles that you solve in Pneuma are what cause the game to be unique in nature. You quickly learn that you can jump or press the occasional button, but apart from that, all you will need is to move and observe the environment, and it is this observation that will get you through the game. For example, you will move down a spiral staircase and then reach a closed door. There is nothing to interact with and the door doesn't open no matter how long you stare at it. However, if you look around hard enough, you will notice an ever-watching eye looking back at you. Staring back at it will cause the door to open, but if you take your gaze off that eye even for a second, the door will seal you off from the next room. With this in mind, you will need to continually observe that eye while walking through the door until you are safely in the next room. Puzzles like this are littered throughout the game and are given unusual twists to keep them fresh. Eventually you are presented with new varieties of puzzles, but the objective always remains the same; you must combine your movement and observation of the environment to successfully unearth what is being asked of you. It's an ingenious way of playing and it causes each puzzle to be enjoyable as you figure out what you are supposed to do.


To match the simplistic controls, the world of Pneuma also looks relatively simplistic, but this isn't necessarily a negative thing. Upon your first few steps, the walls and stairs are plastered bright white and nothing more. Reds, golds and browns are soon lavished upon you but the colour palette is never too complex. Apart from a green plant, there is one courtyard that is nothing but white, and it is surprisingly pleasing to look at. The game's engine has worked in its favour and its style beautifully fits its theme. Pneuma is exploring a world that feels untouched by any living being and the crisp and pristine look of everything meshes perfectly with the subject of a newly created universe. In this instance, less is more.

Pneuma's soundtrack also helps to remind you that you are in an untarnished world. While constantly playing, it never distracts you from the puzzle you are trying to solve. It is particularly soothing in certain areas and even when the game loads up, an almost heavenly piece of music welcomes you. The main menu also possesses a crisp and shiny nature that you'll soon become well acquainted with. This isn't a game for the action nuts. Even for a puzzle title, don't expect to bounce across platforms and race through winding corridors like the Portal series.


As you traverse through the environment, you'll be guided to the next room once you complete each puzzle. There's never any confusion as to which door you may have opened or where you should go next, but at the same time the game never feels too confined. It makes great use of the available space and you are never overwhelmed with where to stand as you observe your surroundings.

The one exception here, though, is that the Pneuma is host to three secret puzzles. It is extremely easy to miss these as the game does nothing to tell you where they are located. This makes observing the environment even more essential as you will have to spot anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps there is an oddly placed door or a large staircase that doesn't follow the same direction as the main puzzle. These are arguably the hardest puzzles in the game as extra work is required before even attempting to solve them. A triumphant feeling washes over you once you do stumble across them, though, and completing each one rewards you with something that causes you to think upon the game's subject matter.

While Pneuma is charming in appeal, a downside is that it is extremely short. Depending on how skillful you are at getting through each puzzle, the game's completion will be relatively easy to accomplish in an afternoon of playtime. If you fancy a second run through after your first playthrough, you'd be looking at about an hour. An extra couple of chapters couldn't have hurt, but what we have been given is still certainly enjoyable. The longevity will undoubtedly come from unraveling the secret puzzles.


Pneuma's achievement list mirrors the game itself. It is very simple. There are eleven achievements and eight of those are awarded simply for following the game through to completion. The other three are for successfully solving each of the three secret puzzles. Without any outside help, these could potentially pose a challenge, especially the final puzzle. However, as far as achievements go, this is as simple as it gets, so just sit back and enjoy the game.

Summary

After looking at what Pneuma: Breath of Life has to offer, is it worth keeping an eye on? For the most part, yes. It is a well crafted adventure and a lot of love has gone into creating a unique take on the puzzle genre. The game's one character is interesting to listen to and the topic is something that is rarely discussed in the gaming industry. While puzzle fans will find enjoyment here, fast-paced gamers and those looking for something a bit more beefy in content may not find it as worthwhile. The ID@Xbox games that have been released so far have all had their quirks, and Pneuma: Breath of Life definitely deserves its place within the library.
3.5 / 5
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Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately four hours completing the game and then another few hours racing through it a second time, as well as feeling baffled by the three secret puzzles. He also managed to gain all eleven of the game's achievements. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.