Perception or Reality?
What sort of puzzles can bewilder a god? Pneuma: Breath of Life poses this theological question in a first-person puzzler that has you looking through the eyes of a deity. It’s an interesting journey filled with philosophical ramblings and perception-based puzzles unlike any seen before in the genre. It is a picturesque endeavor that will steady your motions as you behold the visual beauty of the game. Yet even at a casual pace, you will find the answer to the protagonist’s existence far too quickly, with little incentive to ask the question again and begin the journey anew.
Nonetheless, the voyage provides a very intriguing introduction. A voice and consciousness fashioned from nothing speaks out to the blackness at the game’s start. “Let there be light.” And so there was. Whitewashed hallways and a staircase that forms as you move towards it guides you along the linear path. The voice speaks of his surroundings with bardic flair, basking in how the setting forms purely from his thoughts. Content with the belief of his omnipotence, he proceeds onwards, nonchalantly noting the stunning environments and questioning their purpose.
He soon realizes that his trek is not one devoid of obstacles. Platforms that need to be moved into place, objects that need to fit a certain alignment, and triggers that need to be “pushed” provide the brain teasers that impede his progress. Yet he has no hands to grasp with, no feet to tread with, simply a discreet reticle in the middle of the screen. He surmises that he is not moving at all, but rather willing the universe to move around him. Yet the question lingers. Why would he give himself obstacles?
Many of these barriers are connected to a series of triggers bearing an eye-like form. Perception is the key element in solving most of the puzzles. The “eyes” affect the environment depending on your movements while glaring at them, or averting your gaze in other cases. Of the six chapters within the game, you’ll likely breeze through the first three with ease. Only once you reach the story’s halfway mark do the riddles begin to test how far outside of the box your wits can tread. Lateral thinking is required, and with (in most cases) no preface or instructions to guide you through your query, stepping back or bringing in a fresh set of eyes may be required to locate the solution.
Thus the game carries on, with the ever-watching eyes providing an unsettling feeling that perhaps this wandering conjectural voice is not the architect of his reality as he claims to be. And yet his emotional journey maintains a constant equilibrium in tone. He questions his surroundings as he enters each new area, applauds his intelligence through theoretical analysis of his presence, yet maintains a consistent demeanor. We assume there may be a sinister force playing games with him, some puppeteer pulling strings, however it is only when the epilogue is reached that our protagonist loses his composure as he discovers the answer to his question, though in an intriguingly epiphanic way. Still, to have the rising action angled at such a slight degree only to climax in the final scene leaves you with a sense of plot malnourishment. Should you find the brainteasers beneath your skill, you’ll likely reach the conclusion in just a few hours, with only three optional puzzles that may or may not have been missed as an incentive to sift through the chapters again.
As an interactive backdrop, the stunning displays are more than worth an extra pause. Pneuma: Breath of Life is the epitome of serenity, with polished gold plated walls, glistening marble floors, finely hewn stonework, and healthily photosynthesized plants presented as part of each new puzzle location. The reflective quality of every surface, and the lighting effects in general, are masterfully done, bringing a warmth from the sun that can almost be felt through the screen. The specific color palette sees little variance throughout the course of the adventure, though the exquisite design will likely withhold your criticisms. The immersion into this puzzle laden utopia is breached, however, each time you enter a new area. The game renders each new section without load screens as you progress through the chapter, and it takes a few noticeable seconds for all the textures to fully load. With such a silky smooth visual coating as a whole, these brief graphical hiccups are enough to pull you from the illusion.
Peaceful new-age music and ambient natural soundscapes enhance this paradise even further. The game never strays from its gentle rhythm, though when in rooms completely estranged from the sun’s rays, a silence and claustrophobic aura permeate the finely crafted architecture. Esteemed voice actor Jay Britton performs the self-socializing monologue admirably. The holistic script is delivered with a clarity that encapsulates you in the protagonist’s journey, even without a fluctuating emotional struggle throughout most of the story.
Pneuma: Breath of Life provides an interesting male lead, a gorgeous backdrop, and unique puzzles solved through the powers of perception. However, it fails to provide a nuanced story, and the one it delivers finishes much too soon. With such a surreal premise, there was an opportunity to take the journey much further and the puzzles much deeper. It’s a stunning presentation, but in the end your personal judgment will be based on quality over quantity.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Some of the best lighting effects of any game, where every frame would make an exceptional wallpaper. Only the texture loading times pull you back to reality. 3.9 Control
About as simple as a first-person controls can get, though tight and responsive with both movement and the camera. 4.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Peaceful ambient music and stellar voice work complement the beauty provided by the visuals. 2.5 Play Value
A brief journey with little reason to replay limits its value, even at its reasonable $20 price tag. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best