A beautiful mess
Pneuma: breath of life is a first person puzzle game set in a fantasy dream world built around Grecian architecture. The game is undeniably beautiful and eventually turns out to be quite smart even if it’s true depth is not always easy to enjoy
The story of Pneuma, is quite a mess. Or at least it will it will seem that way on a first play through. Throughout the eight levels of the game the audience will be bombarded with ideas, themes and imagery that will seem relevant but disjointed. A mix of heavy handed writing and major pacing issues mean that the narrative can seem obviously deep in tone, yet annoying vague in actuality.
The ending of the game delivers a welcome twist and playing the game again after seeing the epilogue is a much clearer and much more interesting experience. But there’s very little reason for more than one play through as: if you’ve solved the games puzzles once they lose all their mystery and intrigue. So whilst the epilogue adds a lot to the game it doesn’t do enough to turn reaching that ending into a good experience.
Visually, the game is stunning. Its rendering of smooth marble and glossy metal is dazzling and its lighting is just as impressive. The detailed, bright blue sky box is extremely pleasant though there’s very few reasons to look at it. When all these things combine at the right moment the game can be undeniably striking. I imagine that on a high powered pc utilising VR the game would be quite a sight to behold.
The game play is both the strongest and weakest aspect that Pneuma brings to the table. The game mostly comprises of first person puzzle solving, the twist here is that many of the puzzles require using the camera to view them from a certain perspective. This makes for some extremely clever and interesting game play as advancing through the game often means experimenting with your perspective and is extremely satisfying when you finally find that solution.
The problem with the game play is that there is very little in the way of guidance throughout. This isn’t really a problem when you’re moving through the game solving one puzzle to the next. But when you get stuck, as the game revolves around your perspective on the problem you can’t solve, you can be stuck for hours. And whether you’re stuck for five minutes or five hours the game does nothing to prompt or help you.
Pneuma is chock full of smart, well designed puzzles and solving them can be a joy. But it can also be a real slog to make progress at times and this only furthers the bad pacing that the game already suffers from.
Overall, Pneuma is an interesting idea that falters in its execution, it has the potential to be thought provoking but it lets heavy handed writing and inconsistent pacing undermine its potentially interesting narrative. Its game play is cleverly designed and interesting throughout, but can easily become irritating to the point where experiencing the overall game is no longer fun. Its undeniably beautiful but it’s equally undeniably messy.
On a 100 point scale I would score this game 5.9/10