In the Beginning, Me.
Oh, how the game has changed. Once upon a time, videogames were just light distractions; simple-minded entertainment devoid of any real narrative or substance, relying entirely on addictive and challenging gameplay to keep players engaged. Today, that is not the case. Video games have evolved into a genuine artform, capable of telling some of the most engaging stories and engrossing players in worlds that even their imaginations never thought possible. Pnuema: Breath of Life, from Deco Digital and Bevel Studios, is one such example of the maturity of this industry.
Pnuema itself is a Greek word, translating as a philosophical concept that relates to what comprises a person’s soul. Essentially, pnuema is the internal you. This is what makes Pnuema: Breath of Life unique, as this game is less of a first-person puzzler and more of an interactive journey of existential thought and discovery. In the game’s opening, players are introduced to a black screen and an enthusiastic voice proclaiming his own sudden existence from an otherwise lifeless void. This voice is Pnuema, and he is both the subject and narrator of the game. After discovering his own existence, Pnuema quickly ascertains that he is god (as there’s nothing else around him to tell him otherwise) and promptly gets to work carving his universe out of the Nothing.
“Let there be light!” he shouts, and a beam of light shines across the screen. As you enter the light, Pnuema expresses the need of finding a destination, as no beginning can be complete without a journey to an ultimate end. Thus the game truly begins, as players are now given paths to follow and obstacles to overcome. These puzzles can be tricky at points, and build nicely in complexity, but ultimately they fall short of a true challenge. However, while I was able to beat the game in just under two hours, I wasn’t wholly disappointed by the game’s brevity or lack of difficulty. This game is an experience, one that prods the mind into thinking about the nature of life and the reason for existing at all- pretty heavy concepts to be worked into a videogame.
Jay Britton, the voice actor for Pneuma, does a fantastic job with his performance as well. Pnuema is charismatic and energetic, and his own excitement towards discovering more about the nature and purpose of himself and his universe is often the best part of the game. There are multiple laugh-out-loud moments as you help him make his way through each chapter, and as the game progresses he becomes increasingly aware that he is more likely the subject of his world, rather than the creator of it.
Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, I will say that Pneuma: Breath of Life has one of the most memorable final acts I’ve ever experienced. Not only did it make me reflect on my 20 years of gaming, and what it means to be a player versus a character, but it made me think about the implications of my own free will. Is there such a thing? Is there purpose to life? Or are we just the play thing of some grand designer, invisibly pulling the strings of our lives and creating the false conception of control? Like I said- heavy concepts for a video game.
Strictly as a game, Pnuema: Breath of Life is just okay. It’s a very pretty game, the controls are smooth, and Jay Britton’s work is some of my favorite voice acting in a game, but the puzzles are too easy and it’s very short. That said, this is more than just a game; it’s an interactive work of existential philosophy. It’s one more example of the evolution of the gaming industry. If you’re trying to find the next Portal, you probably won’t find it here. But if you get past its shortcomings, Pneuma: Breath of Life is an opportunity to experience something truly unique.