It appears that playing as a God isn’t quite as exciting as it sounds. Deco Digital’s existential look at the nature of existence is a strangely quiet and mechanically simplistic affair that aims towards themes of reality and the meaning of life, but ultimately has to settle for being relatively interesting, nearly always pleasant and, above all else, surprisingly funny.
As a God coming to the realisation that he is, or well, might be a God, Pneuma: Breath of Life plays with the ideas of your actions essentially shaping the very nature of existence, and while these heady goals are certainly admirable, the fact of the matter is, lofty aspirations aside, Deco Digital have essentially created a mechanically mediocre Myst clone that, despite being home to a solid script, genuinely interesting themes and absolutely gorgeous graphics, is ultimately let down by its disappointingly average puzzles.
The first thing that will draw your attention upon starting up Pneuma: Breath of Life (really, couldn’t they have come up with a better name?) is just how great this game looks. This really is one outrageously pretty game. Representing one of the finest uses of Unreal Engine 4 to date, Pneuma is every bit the next-gen visual showcase. Yes, the world itself is strangely lifeless, but despite the somewhat vacant nature of your surroundings and the look but don’t touch application of the mechanics, Pneuma’s gorgeous Greek architecture and oddly futuristic contraptions represent a stunning advertisement for Epic’s follow up to the all-conquering Unreal Engine 3.
The frame-rate does take a bit of a hit if you move the camera around quickly and some of the textures aren’t quite so gorgeous when you get up-close and personal (as you will often have to in order to complete puzzles), but other than these minor issues, this is a game that takes another major step towards achieving the Holy Grail of photo-realism. It’s not there yet, but at a glance, Pneuma’s visuals will certainly warrant a second look.
In fairness, we all knew how good Pneuma looked right from the first reveal, but what we didn’t know was just how funny it was going to be. Based upon the visuals and themes, you would think Pneuma would end up being a decidedly serious, perhaps even solemn affair, but honesty, the final product couldn’t be further from it. Yes, it does make you think and the ending, while not likely to please everyone, is certainly thought provoking, but the script and subjects are all imbued with a sharp wit and some very likeable delivery. It doesn’t all work and it isn’t quite in the same league as the Portal 2’s of this world, but still, judged on its own merits, Pneuma is an entertaining and highly likeable experience.
It’s especially disappointing then that the puzzles simply aren’t up to scratch. They’re rarely terrible, but compared to the finest of the genre, Pneuma’s own simply don’t match up. Mechanically it’s all sound enough, but few are memorable while many are lamentably obtuse. Most will be able to get through the game without a guide, but not enough of the puzzles have that pleasing eureka moment with far too many are dependent upon trial and error to attain success. Of course, it also doesn’t help that the game is only a few hours long – I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week, but the simple mechanics and ho-hum puzzles don’t deliver quite enough quality or content to justify the relatively hefty price tag.
Still, mediocre puzzles, high price point and strangely lifeless world aside (especially strange given that this is fundamentally a game about life), Pneuma: Breath of Life is far from being a bad video game. This is a truly gorgeous visual showcase with thought provoking themes and a very solid if somewhat unspectacular set of mechanics holding it all together. You’re unlikely to remember any particular puzzle with any great degree of fondness, but you will remember the script, the enjoyable vocal performance at its heart and yes, those visuals are likely to linger in the memory for quite some time to come.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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