By: Quinn Potter
If you live in a funky, bohemian neighborhood where everyone is into yoga, meditation and finding inner peace, the concept of a “difficult lateral thinking puzzle game with a story of self-discovery” might be intriguing to you. If you are looking for face-to-face combat, strategic use of weapons, or team-based attacks, however, please, do yourself a favor and read no further; Pneuma: Breath of Life isn’t for you.
There’s not a ton of action or complex backgrounds to navigate, so the controls work well for what you need to accomplish. Having said that, the narrow passageways can provoke a bit of queasiness if you try to move through them too quickly.
The backdrop for your journey of self-discovery has some pros and cons. On the plus side, the graphics are detailed and nicely rendered. Execution is flawless. There is a sense of peace and serenity as you navigate the layout. Details emerge from time to time, such as on a gate or fountain. Lighting is smooth and varies as you navigate the corridors.
On the down side, however, this game runs the risk of boredom. There aren’t really enough details or novelty to keep you that focused on being in the moment. Instead, you might find yourself pacing back and forth, frantically looking for an opening, and feel that your frustration is only building. If there were a few more well-placed, gem-like details to discover (a rare flower, the toll of a distant bell, a sunrise to stop and observe), this might make the game more nuanced and layered.
There seems to be no audible soundtrack to the game, which is odd. Self-discovery rarely takes place in a vacuum. In real life, there are bird calls, waves, or there is the sound of wind whispering through the trees. In the game, there is only a mildly irritating narrator who occasionally points out the obvious (“The doors go up and down.”). When the narrator does finally start talking in a steady stream in Chapter 5, he shifts from mildly irritating to truly annoying.
Like any game, there are logic-based puzzles that get more difficult as you advance up levels of play. The puzzles aren’t necessarily easier to solve with more time or exposure. There seems to be about a 50-50 chance that you’ll stumble into a solution. If you are on a level where you can’t figure out how to open doors, navigate small passages, or line up laser beams properly, you will probably get frustrated.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to call out to a wise elder, co-player, intelligent AI, magical talisman, book of knowledge, or any other resource to help you through. Instead, it’s just you, on your own, stumbling around a weird passageway, muttering rhetorically, “How am I supposed to do that? Why doesn’t that trigger anything? How do I go back there? When does this level END?!!”
It’s not pretty.
If a journey of self-discovery is supposed to evoke frustration, this game succeeds nicely. If it’s supposed to be a moment of joy and triumph, the taste has probably soured by the time you finally figure out how to finish the level.
Once you’ve completed a couple of levels, the puzzles actually get a little easier because you can see the pattern of how to solve them. Playing through the whole game won’t take more than a couple of hours, tops. And, unfortunately, the game doesn’t evolve, so there are no more details, hidden corridors, or advanced levels to unlock once you’ve played through .
When compared to real-life counterparts — a walk on the beach, a soak in the tub, a yoga session, a fine gourmet meal, etc. — Pneuma: Breath of Life fails to really deliver the virtual equivalent of a quiet, reflective journey or even a focused time to engage in all your senses. If you want to really have some “flow” where you are so engaged in an activity that you lose all sense of time, you might find an afternoon of gameplay with your buddies to be more satisfying than this virtual simulation.