Pneuma: Breath of Life was developed and published by Deco Digital and Bevel Studios. It was released on Xbox One on February 27, 2015 for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.
If I learned anything from The Road to El Dorado, it’s that it’s tough to be a god. Sure, being worshipped and all-powerful is great and all, but you’ve got to live up to some high expectations. The prospect of being a god is the main conflict in Pneuma: Breath of Life, offering a unique perspective on being an all-powerful deity.
It’s important to emphasize that this isn’t your usual god game. You’re not an omnipresent spirit hovering over society, controlling life forms and building habitats, nor are you slaughtering your fellow divine beings. Pneuma is a first-person puzzler, putting you in the hypothetical shoes of Pneuma. As the creator of a brand new universe, you set out to explore your work and discover your powers. While the set-up may sound captivating, the game doesn’t quite reach god-like quality.
Here’s what I liked:
Unique perspective — Pneuma has the power to control the world around him without lifting a finger. Objects react to his gaze, only activating if they’re in his line of sight. It’s a mechanic that’s easy to use and understand, yet fun and versatile enough to build the entire game around. This mechanic, plus genre standards like buttons and levers, comes together to create an amazing variety of challenges. Every puzzle in the game is different, requiring you to figure out some new skill to progress. From beginning to end, you’ll never know what kind of brainteaser will lie beyond the next door.
Heavenly images — As the game is about playing god, it only makes sense that it looks like something that would be displayed upon a Mount Olympus pedestal. Unreal Engine 4 is put to great use throughout Breath of Life, creating an intricate, pristine, glistening world that always looks wonderful. Puzzle rooms are so simple, yet so beautiful. Their calming atmosphere is perfect for thinking.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Road to El Dorado lied — With only six short chapters (plus a prologue and epilogue), Pneuma feels like it ends before it begins. Some puzzle games can get away with a short run time if their content is challenging, but here the content is too easy to justify the short play time. The game is always introducing new concepts, but it’s usually doing it in the simplest manner possible. I could count the number of times I got stumped on one hand. Pneuma does have three optional achievement-granting puzzles that are a bit harder, ranging from devilishly clever to downright sinister. Nevertheless, the main story can be completed with only a few minor bumps, making it feel like there could have been so much more.
Long winded — Don’t get me wrong — I like the game’s story. Pneuma’s journey of self-discovery through his godly powers creates a great tone and matches the themes of the gameplay. It’s clever, philosophical and effective. The only problem with it is the narrator doesn’t know when to stop. His performance is well done, but there’s way too much of it. He has something to say for every small accomplishment, often a long speech, and sometimes you’ll wish he’d just shut up so you can hear yourself think.
A passing glance – The observation mechanics of the game are amazing, but not perfect. The boundary of your gaze may go beyond the bounds of your screen, and there are no options to adjust the image size. It’s an issue that only comes up in a couple of puzzles requiring some precision, but it does make those puzzles a bit more tedious.
All in all, I like the concept of Pneuma: Breath of Life more than the execution. Its unique observation-based gameplay mechanic makes for some clever puzzle possibilities, but the game never quite lives up to that potential. Even though Pneuma is woefully short with some annoyances along the way, it still delivers an interesting and serene experience. Pneuma is a fine little slice of puzzles and philosophy, even though it’s not amazing in either aspect.
Score: Try it