A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Puzzle games these days seem to be centralized around the mobile marketplace. Titles like Candy Crush Saga and Bejeweled have millions of downloads because of their bright colors and simplistic gameplay. It’s been quite a while since a first-person puzzler was released to the world, or if there has been one, I haven’t noticed. So I was fortunate that Pneuma: Breath Of Life crossed my path. Deco Digital Studios did a fantastic job of creating a world that not only looks amazing, but is filled with tough yet manageable puzzles and an interestingly philosophical storyline.
You start Pneuma as nothing but a voice in the darkness, a voice that suddenly realizes it’s capable of conscious thought. Then, using his voice and his sudden newfound powers (discovered through a very literal creationism sequence), he slowly begins to build an entire world around him. This gives your extremely chatty unnamed character the idea that he must be a god, and continues this thought process throughout the game.. It’s quite fun to listen to your character gain more knowledge about himself and his world through constant questioning of his own state of being. Following your character’s line of thinking can be a wonderful adventure, although the almost constant arguments with himself can sometimes be a bit draining. Regardless, the narration-only narrative is great to get through for gamers who want a bit of critical thinking in their stories.
Graphically the game is quite beautiful, though just the tiniest bit underwhelming for a next-gen system. Your character creates gorgeous background landscapes and stunning architecture, things so awe-inspiring even he is surprised by them. Many areas of the game look much like a Greek or even Egyptian palace. Essentially your character’s world consists of a giant castle that seems to construct itself as you go. Or maybe you’re constructing it. But you’re not consciously doing it, so maybe you aren’t? You don’t have hands or feet or even a body as far as you can tell, so if you aren’t consciously or physically creating it, is it your sub-conscious? This is just an example of the numerous internal monologues you’ll hear your character go on about throughout the game, which are often witty and brilliantly voiced. The narrative is also rather complicated, and if you’re not paying close attention it can be easy to get lost and have no clue what’s going on.
While controls are relatively simple (left stick to move, A to jump, X to interact with objects), there are points in the game where playing it is anything but. This is merely because of some of the tough puzzles scattered throughout the world. They mostly consist of looking at eye-shaped devices that control different doors, gates, and bridges, so figuring them out is pretty simple for the most part. Later on although challenges get more difficult, some will require you to use every inch of your line of sight to properly solve them. This can become annoying when you accidentally catch a glimpse of a switch that closes a door you’ve been trying to keep open or during synchronization puzzles. This isn’t to say that they’re all difficult, most are relatively easy if you know what you’re looking for.
However there were several in my play through that had me walking back and forth forever, searching for the clue that was hiding in the first place I should have looked. Your character’s walking speed is also irritatingly slow, especially if you’re used to first person games. It allows for fluidity and kind of makes it seem like your journey through this world is a leisurely stroll, but it just comes off as sluggish. The game is also very linear, with no alternative paths or secret rooms to find. There’s nothing wrong with linear games, but they don’t offer much replay value and take away from any depth a game might have.
My biggest issue with Pneuma is its length. Even an average gamer could knock it out in about three or four hours, so if you’re looking for something that lasts I would advise against it. Pneuma currently sells for $20, but even that seems like a waste of money for something you could beat in less than an afternoon.
The Verdict: 8 out of 10
Pneuma: Breath Of Life is not a perfect game, but it’s certainly not a bad one. The fun and gorgeous level design and challenging puzzles coupled with the intellectual commentary of your character make it one of those truly unique titles you rarely see among the copy/pasted monotony in modern gaming. It’s almost reminiscent of the old Myst games on PC, except here there’s a tangible story that doesn’t require hours of endless exploration. It’s terribly short, so its price tag may drive away those who want more quantity than quality, but if you feel like fronting the money you won’t be disappointed. For more information about what this score means, check out our official review scale.
Elijah Arnold is an Associate Writer for Middle of Nowhere Gaming, a gamer, and Star Wars enthusiast from Orange County, California. In his spare time he lives out his dream of being a rockstar by being the frontman of a metal band. Check him out on Twitter
“A puzzle game with a smart story is a rare find, but is @BevelStudios #PneumaBreathofLife a worthy prize?”