Pneuma is an interesting title for a number of reasons, made by a small UK based developer Deco Digital (and Bevel Studios) who made the game and juggled jobs on the side to help fund it. It’s an ambitious and intriguing puzzle game and the first Unreal Engine 4 title to release on Xbox One (and with that is a whopping 10.5gb download!)
The game itself is a first person puzzle game, you control the very self-aware Pneuma a god in this world, he narrates as you go through and is rather irritating if I was to be completely honest, I think I’m over the narrator thing (having also just played Transistor after Pneuma which had a similar sort of thing too) but I also think I’m glad it was silent, as nice as the music was.
The first thing as with many games I noticed was how it looks, Unreal Engine 4 is certainly well represented here, the frame rate is smooth, has good aliasing and impressive art direction, it’s certainly a looker and a surprising effort given the developers background, not to sound disparaging to them, it’s just I wasn’t quite expecting something that is such an impressive technical achievement as well as having great production values and presentation.
I’ve played a few puzzle games recently and noted how games like Unmechanical and Limbo were able to do so much in the gameplay using few gameplay mechanics, namely based on picking things up and moving them around. Pneuma takes this one step further and is even more stripped back than this in that most of the puzzles are based around where you look and how the environments respond to where you look and move. A few puzzles require actual interaction, you can press X to interact with certain things and the occasional jump is required too but as I said this isn’t the main way the puzzles are completed.
This is what makes it an interesting game to me, it is different, it’s not revolutionary or going to reinvent the puzzle genre but it requires a different sort of thinking which I found that to be very intriguing and enjoyable to go up against as I went through.
There is a concept as you go through the game which I referred to as the “Pneuma Eye”, it’s on the logo and appears a lot throughout the game as a key part of the puzzles. So how does it actually work? Well, you look at it and then the environment will respond by such as opening a door or allowing you to move a bridge piece, raising a platform and then you continue on. The environment is aware of where you are as well, one puzzle requires you to look at the eye then spin around on the spot to move the room around and open up another door, there are others that are related to how you move around and manipulate the trees which then affect the shadow created by the sun, it’s better than perhaps it sounds and is very enjoyable to play.
The puzzles vary in difficulty as you’d expect and I found them generally quick to go through once I had worked out what to do, given trial and error aspect of it and varying complexities it’s not very a long game in itself but it’s also not a short one unless you power through it and get all the puzzles quickly.
Given how it’s based around on where the character is looking, the movement you make and what can be seen on-screen this does make it seem easier although it’s not necessarily the case, I found the puzzles that required you to interact with them – moving objects, pressing buttons to be the ones I struggled on but I did find completing puzzles to be satisfying.
I enjoyed the challenge a lot and I think it’s definitely worth playing through although as I said your mileage will vary depending on how quickly you adapt to the games way of thinking but I don’t think many people will burst through it on a first go. The story doesn’t really ramp up, I was expecting and hoping for a big payoff and I was left a bit disappointed by the ending.
Pneuma Breath of Life is an incredibly impressive first effort from a new studio, the game is beautiful with great art direction and presentation, it’s an intriguing and even possibly thought-provoking game that’s enjoyable to play.
Checkout the videos I made of the very beginning chapters of the game: