Review: Pneuma: Breath of Life
Pneuma: Breath of Life is a video game. But does that make it less valid; less real? What is real? The game was created by real people who purposefully made its graphical aesthetic look realistic, so it must be real in some way. When you play Pneuma, you’re interacting with and within a work that is in essence little more than lines of code written by a person or people you may never meet. There is a script somewhere with all of the game’s possibilities mapped out on it. Can the act of playing the game, then, be intimate? Intriguing? New? Can an experience be real even if its harbinger is not? I suppose it can be.
In gaming terms, Pneuma is a first-person adventure game. There are puzzles to be solved for progress to be made, but the game is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not to disparage its parts, either. The game looks beautiful, with shiny, pristine, realistic textures and bright outdoor environments to trek through. I played the game in different sessions and noticed that when loading a new environment or a previously saved game, there’s a decent amount of choppiness off the bat. It clears up once the game world is fully rendered, but I couldn’t help but twirl around to bait the framerate on occasion. The narrator, a cheeky, English-accented diety, does a spot-on job conveying the emotions of the game. The script is smart, wavering between the Morpheus Construct speech linked above and the Architect speech linked right here. If played in solitude or with people who are willing to regard games as more than juvenile escapism, Pneuma is a deeply philosophical experience.
Pneuma‘s greatest strengths are its narrator and its puzzles. These aren’t the types of problems that can be solved by passive observation. You can’t just walk into a room and figure out how to progress. The puzzles in Pneuma require trial and error; testing and gathering. I love the fact that in almost every case, I had to loaf around for a bit to figure out what triggered this or that and how I was supposed to progress to the next section. A majority of the puzzles rely on utilizing your field of view as opposed to modifying objects, which is novel. Over the three hours or so I spent playing through the game, I was only mildly stumped once or twice. I overcame, obviously, but the difficulty in this game skillfully straddles the line between leaving the player forlorn and handing him the key to the door on a shiny platter.
I’m keeping this review short because I don’t want to spoil any of the narrative. About halfway through the game and onward, a slight thematic shift is perceivable. Over time, the game subtly changes form from wondrous jaunt to something less shallow and more deep; more real. During the final sequence, I felt a bit uncomfortable in a good way; the way you feel after watching a particularly cerebral or realistically gruesome flick. Pneuma weaves philosophical, existential, and even religious threads into a beautiful tapestry. This is the type of game that I’d like to hand to a few friends and see what they make of it. I suggest you do the same.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Narration is on point
- Philisophical implications of gaming
- Discovering solutions during, not before puzzles
What I Dislike:
- Loading times when coming back to game