Whatever some politicians and the Daily Mail would have you believe, not all games are about killing and dismemberment. I enjoy a shooter as much as the next person but sometimes your mind and gamepad crave something different. Pneuma is definitely that, and it thoroughly deserves your attention. Currently (until 30th November) available for free as one of the Games with Gold (GWG), downloading this excellent puzzler should be a total no-brainer.
My first impressions were mixed. It’s certainly beautiful and cleverly done, with a world that builds around you as you take your first steps (and yes, “un-builds” if you backtrack). The puzzles start off simple but are intriguing nonetheless – based an unusual mechanic using sight, rather than touch as the your main way to interact. But as the prologue went on I couldn’t quite shake the a feeling I’d seen other games do all this before, from Myst to Portal and games like The Stanley Parable. The voice-over feels particularly familiar and teeters on the edge between quirky and annoying. However, somewhere during Chapter 1, I found myself captivated.
As the voice quickly concludes, you appear to be some kind of God creating, exploring and coming to terms with a new world as the game progresses. It’s an ambitious idea but means that, as well as narrator, the script explored the nature of creation and existence itself. It is often funny, clever and thought-provoking but also self-aware – although smug and indulgent in places he usually pulls himself up seconds later for being exactly that. But instead of coming from a companion or some unseen third-party, the voice you are hearing is actually me, or rather, the character I’m controlling. Once I realised that I am the one who is being smug, indulgent and creating this world it all made sense. I was hooked.
But, as well as being tightly linked to the premise, the risky voice-over and line-of-sight mechanic were also central to how much I enjoyed the Pneuma experience. But with no control over what you are saying or thinking Pneuma manages to maintain a unique sense of detachment despite the first-person perspective. That line-of-sight mechanic which seemed a bit clunky now just reinforces the feeling you are witnessing, not controlling events. You do sometime come across buttons or levers that demand your input but these interactions are never shown – buttons simple change, levers move. While I’d imagine this is down to technical limitations it works perfectly within the story. After all, you are a God. Aren’t you?
But a clever concept and pretty visuals would not make a great game. Thankfully the puzzles are pretty much spot on. There is a good sense of progression with new ideas introduced at just the right time and, in my view, a perfectly pitched learning curve. The sense of achievement from completing a puzzle is excellent, this is a game you should really stick with and if you resist the guides and Youtube videos you will be rewarded, not frustrated. One puzzle in Chapter 4 felt like a real duffer but it’s testament to the game that it really stood out from what came before. Thankfully what follows is the perfect crescendo, adding more new ideas, complexity without frustration and expanding the narrative. The Epilogue in particular made me jump, then think, then smile.
It’s a short game so that Epilogue comes around fairly quickly but I am glad they didn’t string it out as I think it would have diluted the experience. That said, with a running time of just a few hours and little replay value, £16 was probably a bit of an ask. But it’s unusual, gorgeous, full of clever puzzles and has some interesting things to say. In many ways, Pneuma is the perfect game for the GWG program. I highly recommend it, let me know what you think.