Pneuma: Breath of Life
Publisher: Deco Digital and Bevel Studios
Developer: Deco Digital and Bevel Studios
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Mind the stairs, and don’t trip over your own feet.
Pnuema started out less a game, and more of a tech demo, even going so far as to show us how to pronounce it’s title name: /’ nju:ma /. The purpose of developing it was to show off the Unreal 4 Engine, and test positional-oriented rendering, developed by a small team of 6 twenty-something year old’s, who worked throughout the day to put it together, and then worked all night at their regular jobs to fund their project. And, thanks to some very clever positional-based puzzles, a well written, witty narrative, brilliantly voiced by our game’s lead, the end product is a very smart, good looking game.
We start the game in a black void. The narrator of the adventure, our character, becomes self-aware, and begins to wonder where they are. He then utters some famous words, along the lines of “let there be light” and suddenly a door opens up ahead. We take control, and walk forward into a plain white hallway. The voice in our head, upon the realizing he has just created light, and quite possibly the whole world we just stumbled into, obviously thinks he is now a god. This is where the game shines, in its writing. Our god-like narrator begins to list the laws of physics that are keeping him grounded, and while moving around watching the world beautifully build itself around us, begins to realize that he is not in fact moving, but the world is moving around him. And then begins to add colour and warmth to his surroundings.
IT’S PRONOUNCED NJU:MA
At this point, if you decide to walk backwards, you’ll see all the changes become undone, and the world revert back to its pale empty space. This kind of evolution and realization follows us through the whole game, and creates a good sense of progression.
I really liked the voice actor who plays the narrator, his wonder and excitement regarding his new world and his ability to create. Reminds me a lot of Wheatly from Portal 2. His high level thinking and his god-like status slowly begins to wear away though, as we start to come across puzzles. Why would a God like me be forced to do these menial tasks? There are a lot of philosophical questions and points that the narrator raises during the campaign, as he tries to figure out why things are the way they are, what it’s like to be alive in this world, and are we playing the game, or is the game playing us.
The puzzles start off pretty easy to grasp, and graduate to fairly moderate, none of them too hard to handle, but you may get a bit queasy when the game starts to rotate the game world, leaving you a little turned around.
“ARE YOU GOING TO OPEN THE DOOR? AT ANY TIME?
The puzzles are position and focused based. There are eye markers placed around each level, and these will control walls or floor tiles, or doors. When looking at the object marker, it may move as you walk closer, or when you walk away – no explanation as to why this is happening. But these are only affected when looking at them. The camera has to see the eye. For example, when looking at a door marker, the doors may only open as you walk away facing them. Do that for a distance until they open fully, turn around so your eye and the eye marker no longer make contact, and then walk backwards through the open door. Afterwards our narrator will chime in, confirming what we did, and coming to the conclusion that what we did was correct. That’s the easy stuff.
The puzzles get a little more difficult as your progress. Standing on certain pedestals in one area, and rotating the camera will rotate the whole room, and leaving you feeling a little woozy. In the next area, tiles on the floor need to be turned on or off by viewing them at one colour and looking away and coming back to change the colour. These puzzles require time and patience, as one slip up with the camera, and you will have to start all over again.
The puzzles in each area follow a similar mechanic, but don’t feel repetitive or tedious. They are short however, and the game as a whole, is not long, only a few hours, without any real reason to play again.
Pneuma: The Breath of Life is very pretty, brightly coloured, and beautifully textured with smooth marble or bumpy stone, and fill with lush fauna and bright skies. At times, it does feel like a visual tech demo, showing off the capabilities of the Unreal Engine on a console. It’s just a shame that since all of the puzzles are visual and position based, so we spend a lot of time avoiding eye contact with the markers, and instead spend it looking at our feet.
The achievements are very generous: 8/11 of them are for just completing each chapter totalling 850G, and then the 3 remaining are for extra puzzles, these being easily missed.
For those that liked Portal, The Stanley Parable, or looking at your feet.
There’s a puzzle for you (Complete the Game) – 150G