It isn’t all that often a game’s initial screen is a lesson in how to pronounce its title, but that’s what Pneuma does, but even then /’ nju:ma / doesn’t quite explain it properly. So it pretty much got known as Breath of Life in the Gamestyle offices.
Now as for what Pneuma: Breath of Life is. It is the latest in an ever growing trend of wandering, narrated, puzzle solving based games. To be honest it can be summed up pretty easily. If you had a scale that started with The Stanley Parable at 1 and finished with The Talos Principle at 10, then Pneuma: Breath of Life would be sitting around the 5-6 mark.
Now that isn’t the score, that is purely the game mechanics in a nut shell. You wander around the world that you have been given whilst a voice narrates exactly what you are doing, whilst solving pretty simple puzzles to progress. As you can see, it is slap bang in the middle of those two games mentioned.
But is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is it the best of both worlds, or are you better off going for those two alone and ignoring this completely?
Well the easy answer is no… mainly because you can play this on a console, which neither of the other two are available on yet and secondly, it is a pretty damned good experience, although it can take a little while to realise that.
The game opens by trying to be mysterious and not revealing much, as you start in total blackness, with the narrator, the voice in your head, telling you that maybe you are a God and you can create light…and sure enough there was light. This is the opening path that takes you into the early puzzles and one thing that is lovely here, is the way the world builds itself around you.
Starting from emptiness, you start with basic 3D modelled shapes of stairways, walls, etc before seeing colour added, all as this is narrated to you, but by going back the way you came, you can also see this all undo in real time. It creates an amazing sense of progression even this early into the game and throughout it also keeps you pushing on. There have been many moments where I have said to myself, let’s leave it here for now, only to be intrigued enough to carry on that instant, just to see what this new area may be like…oh that’s finished now too.
The narrator is the one thing I am undecided on with Pneuma: Breath of Life. I kind of hate his voice, it just doesn’t fit as well as narrators in games like The Stanley Parable, Bastion or Transistor, it lacks the charisma that those have, but at the same time he fits the world really well and I couldn’t think of something that could sound better. It really is an odd feeling, you want him to be quiet, but when he does stop talking, you miss his voice in your ear.
Here is what I do like about the narration here though. It only fills in clues to puzzles once you have finished one of them. So the first puzzle you come across is a gate that opens and closes as you get nearer or further away. There is no explanation as to why this is, but it is only when you get through, you get a confirmation of what you did and how it worked, but again not as a straight up point by point description, it is a little more cryptic than that.
Another thing that impresses, is that even though the bulk of the puzzles follow a very similar mechanic, the game at no point felt repetitive, there was enough variation that you had to continue to think about your approach, even thinking outside of the box to come to the simplest of conclusions.
This brings me to the pacing and length of the game. First, this isn’t a long game by any stretch and can be finished in a few short hours, with very little encouragement to play through again, but by the same measure the pacing is absolutely spot on and I do mean spot on.
You start a new area and discover how this set of puzzles will work, you complete the first, then take on the next few as they get a little more complex, then as you get to the point that you feel you have done as much as you really care for in this level…BANG! There is the room and the teleport to the next area and a new set of puzzles and ways of solving them. This was happening every single time and I must say I can’t think of a single game where the pacing was that perfect. Others have been close to perfect, but this, in my opinion was actually perfect.
So to properly answer my earlier question Is Pneuma: Breath of Life the best of both worlds, or are you better of going for those two alone and ignoring this completely?
Those two nail their individual ideas better than Pneuma, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a wonderful game. If you are after something that will test the grey matter a little, then Pneuma: Breath of Life is a game you must own.