Pneuma: Breath Of Life, a breath of creche air

Puzzle games, like perhaps no other genre, truly benefit from a sense of conceptual coherence, and Pneuma is a game that throws nothing but relentless curve balls at you. Simple switch puzzles are superseded by complex spatial awareness hoodwinkers, which in turn are followed by elaborate environmental riddles. It’s a project made by a team of people clearly enamoured by the deeply flexible world they’ve created, but the experience is tantamount to chasing a bunch of hyperactive children around. Every time a ruleset is established, it is almost instantaneously discarded again.

Pneuma’s introductory status as an Xbox One exclusive is a curious one, if only because the game has clearly been constructed around the forthcoming PC version’s Oculus Rift support. The gameplay isn’t exactly lost in translation without it, but a desire to relentlessly explore your environment isn’t automatically a given. But your deep involvement is crucial: indispensable clues are contained in hidden corners of the world and in the meandering philosophical meditations of the script. Letting a clue slip past you sometimes makes it feel as if you’ve been abruptly slammed into an impenetrable brick wall. When the solution to a puzzle involves nothing more complicated than staring at an object for a specific period of time it’s very easy to construe that confounding juxtaposition as poor design. The clues are always there,however, and if you’re ever truly stuck, restarting at a previous checkpoint may be your smartest option.

The game’s vague and benign narrative plays out via an almost ceaseless monologue; a bombardment of abstract metaphysical musings that’s often brazenly nonsensical. Are you embodying the wandering imagination of a dead person? Or some sort of playful deity? Whatever you may be, this is a story that features so many questions that its lack of answers won’t come as a great surprise, and the hurried climax feels like a timid cop out. This isn’t a journey to a specific destination but an enigmatic daydream. Any desire to not dialogue altogether.

Ultimately the haphazardness of Pneuma makes it difficult to fully engage with, though the unapologetic style of it is certain to resonate with some audiences, especially during an era in which puzzle games are petrified of being too taxing. Breath of Life will have its fervent champions, but it won’t go supernova.

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