Pneuma: Breath of Life Review

Richard Walker

Pneuma: Breath of Life is a game with lofty aspirations. Billed as a taxing ontological puzzler, it's claimed that Pneuma will “challenge not only your mind, but your own sense of self.” Right off the bat, we went into playing Deco Digital and Bevel Studios' indie Xbox One title with high expectations, only to find ourselves a little underwhelmed.

We're not sure whether it's down to the brazen boasts made by press releases for the game, or just due to Pneuma's fairly run-of-the-mill conundrums and slender runtime, but we came away from the game feeling almost complete apathy. Pneuma's not necessarily a bad game; it's just severely lacking and a tad sterile.

The Greek-style architecture is rather pretty.

A first-person puzzle title, Pneuma: Breath of Life initially drops you into a blank canvas with only a supremely irritating voice for company, before sending you on your way on a voyage of self-exploration. While voice actor Jay Britton is an award winner, his turn as Pneuma's self-proclaimed 'god' is a consistent annoyance throughout.

He sounds like a poor imitation of Hugh Laurie as Prince Regent in Blackadder The Third, but without the dumb charm to make the character likeable. You soon get used to the grating voice, but it's the puzzles that fail to really provide much in the way of gratification. Usually, discovering a solution to a poser should leave you with a glowing sense of achievement. Instead, you'll shrug and move on.

The main problem is with the game's observation mechanic, which involves looking for eye-shaped sensors that react to your movement and position. Locating these sensors is seldom all that difficult, and then finding the subsequent solution is usually more down to trial and error over logical reasoning.

It doesn't feel particularly tactile either, which is why the rare puzzles in which you actually physically manipulate your environment feel so much more rewarding. Some of the game's best moments are derived from rotating huge stone towers to form ramps that you can climb to a high point, or pulling levers to create a set of steps.

It's like a Renaissance painting sometimes.

Conversely, the most frustrating conundrums are the ones that simply involve observing an on-screen element. One standout instance involves flipping floor tiles by looking at them that proves immensely infuriating. It's not hard, it's just rubbish. Other such observation puzzles simply feel woolly, lacking the direct input that comes with pushing a button or activating a switch.

Pneuma's not without its highlights, and some puzzles genuinely hit the mark, making you feel smart upon figuring out the solution. Some are simply too easy or overly clunky, making the game's high notes all the more prominent. There's the makings of a cracking puzzle game in here somewhere, but it unfortunately falls short.

And evidently a great deal of hard work has been lovingly poured into Pneuma by a small and passionate team. The lavish and opulent gold, pristine stone and marble environments are gorgeous, and the tranquil atmosphere the game evokes is a welcome break from the bluster of shooters and action games in general. In a sense, it's a shame that there aren't more games like Pneuma.

What lays beyond these doors?

Yet, despite its positives, the negatives are still very much present and noticeable. Pneuma: Breath of Life can be completed in about 2-4 hours, with a hefty 100G achievement awarded for each of the game's six chapters. Given the asking price, it simply doesn't offer enough. There's no attempt at providing replay value either, with no additional modes, leaderboards or anything else on offer.

Once you're done with Pneuma, you're done. There is literally no incentive to go back whatsoever, other than to mop up the last few achievements you might have missed in the Spirit, Body and Soul puzzles. It's a real shame, as you're likely to feel very shortchanged indeed upon finishing the game after a few short hours. If you're after an easy 1000G though, this fits the bill.

Pneuma: Breath of Life promises much, but fails to deliver. There are aspects of it that are very clever and succeed in making you think, such as the ending wherein the nature of your god's reflective journey and his being is finally revealed. But overall, despite its philosophical questioning and occasional flashes of excellence, Pneuma: Breath of Life feels rather hollow.

Pneuma: Breath of Life

Pneuma: Breath of Life should have been the kind of game you turn to between Call of Duty sessions, but instead it's a slightly insipid, short-lived and ultimately disposable puzzler. Console gamers like us are crying out for games like these, but Pneuma really isn't it.

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A perfectly pleasant but entirely unmemorable soundtrack and that irritating voice over make for something fine, yet almost entirely forgettable.


Pneuma's world is a green and pleasant one, with Grecian-inspired temples bathed in gold and shiny marble. It's a mite samey though.


Most of the observation puzzles are rather simple and don't take long to grasp, while only a few will really test your grey matter. Tactile, physical puzzles that you actually manipulate are better, but too few and far between.


Given the price tag, there's barely anything to Pneuma. Six brief chapters of puzzling and three hidden conundrums will last you all of four hours at the most. And you'll never go back.


Achievements for completing each chapter and solving the hidden puzzles and that's it. Hardly the most creative list.

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