Pneuma: Breath of Life is an entertaining puzzle game that combines environmental, architectural brainteasers with a hefty dose of self-referential commentary from the mysterious, unnamed protagonist who stars in the game. Who is this fellow? What is he doing here, and why? These are the kind of basic philosophical quandaries that are pondered in this rather quirky game.
Set in what seems like a heavenly palace that's heavy on the classical Greek and Roman architectural styling, you never really know where you are, or what your mission is. It's a voyage of exploration for you and, and a self-obsessed voyage of metaphysical discovery for the narrator.
Basically, the game is one of those walking simulator-type experiences. You're thrust into the game's beautiful environment - packed with much shiny marble and highly polished floors - and control someone who rather arrogantly deduces that since they created this particular reality, they must be God. Or at least a God. And so begins a long series of external monologues about life, the universe and everything, during which the narrator poses fundamental philosophical questions about who he is, why he's here, and whether or not he's free to choose his own destiny, or whether it's guided by forces beyond his control.
In a way, this commentary is akin to a game awaking into basic sentience. Is this even a character you're controlling? Perhaps the game itself is talking to you. It's an entertaining concept that tickles one's brain and provides some moments of introspection that provoke a smirk or two. However, the narration also goes off on tangents of near meaningless babble. The voiceover is sometimes charming, but sometimes it feels like it's just trying a little too hard, and being just a little too clever for its own good. A wacky stream of consciousness that must have been entertaining to write, but needs some editing to bring it back from the brink of being occasionally irritating and overplayed.
However, while the narration meanders somewhat, the actual journey through Pneuma: Breath of Life is fairly tightly designed and well laid out. The game is largely linear, and presents a sequence of puzzles that need to be solved to open gates to the next section of the palace. Some of the challenges revolve around looking at mechanical eyes that are placed around the environment. Some eyes open doors, while other eyes close them – so you have to figure out which order you need to look at them, while making sure that you don't accidentally look at the wrong eye at the wrong time and mess up the sequence. There are also puzzles requiring you to move pieces of building, perhaps to make a bridge so you can cross an impassable barrier, or to rotate towers so that walkways and ramps line up together so that you can ascend to the top of the level and open an otherwise inaccessible door.
The early puzzles are fairly straightforward. I got stuck on one for a while that had an incredibly obvious solution – one that was so obvious, indeed, I literally slapped my forehead for not trying it immediately. As the game progresses, the proceedings become increasingly more challenging, and by the time the game reaches its latter stages, the puzzles become quite involved. It's a logical progression that is paced well, although funnily enough, I found I had an easier time with the game's more sophisticated challenges than its simple ones. Sometimes the answer was so straightforward that I was looking for more complex solutions than the ones required to solve the problem. Don't worry – I'm not giving away any spoilers here, but a big hint for this game is to not over-think solutions. Sometimes the answer is staring right at you in the face.
While none of the puzzles had me jumping out of my seat shouting "eureka" in delight when I eventually solved them, they are nevertheless engaging and satisfying. Some are a little fiddly to execute, but generally speaking the game is solidly designed, and will likely keep most players occupied for two to four hours before reaching its thoughtful and worthwhile conclusion.
Despite Pneuma: Breath of Life's rather brief nature, it's fun to play and mostly entertaining to listen to. Like I said, sometimes the narration feels like it's trying too hard, but it all builds towards a finale that's fun to participate in. There's no real reason to go back to it once you're done, since the game is linear and non-random in nature, but the general experience it delivers is enjoyable and occasionally thought provoking.
Whether or not that's worth the price of admission is open for debate. A few hours of entertainment for ten bucks might seem a little heady for most, but Pneuma: Breath of Life is worth checking out, especially if you like games like Talos Principle and the Stanley Parable. Just don't expect it to hit the highs of either of those best-of-breed games.
The game offers two to four hours of entertainment, and has little in terms of replay value.
Sumptuous interior design filled with shiny marble and gold accenting makes this game look gorgeous.
An engaging and quirky game that packs some intriguing puzzles... as well as some that are almost too easy to solve. The narration sometimes feels like it's trying just a little too hard for its own good, but the overall experience Pneuma: Breath of Life delivers is an enjoyable one.