Pneuma: Breath of Life review for Xbox One

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PC
Publisher: Deco Digital
Developer: Deco Digital/Bevel Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

You don’t need to look very hard to spot Pneuma: Breath of Life’s most obvious influence. The first-person perspective, the challenging puzzles, the robotic eyes watching you, the funny British narrator — this game is totally a God of War ripoff.

Just kidding! It’s Portal 2, of course. I mean, there are a few minor differences here and there — most obviously, the fact that where Valve’s masterpiece took place at the end of the world, Pneuma takes place at the beginning of it — but were to replace this narrator with Stephen Merchant, the end result would basically be Portal 3.

Pneuma Breath of Life 1

I’m of two minds regarding such blatant thievery. On the one hand, it pretty much goes without saying that Pneuma is nowhere near as good as the game it’s stealing from. There’s a pretty strong argument to be made that Portal 2 is the best game of all time, so there was basically zero chance that an imitator would have any chance whatsoever of escaping such an enormous shadow.

That said (and I apologize for getting a little corny here), I can’t help but think of the old adage about shooting for the moon and missing. Pneuma may not come anywhere close to matching Portal 2, but because the developers aimed so high, they created a situation in which even achieving half of what they wanted to do still led to a pretty impressive game.

Take the puzzles. Seeing as all you’re doing in every level is trying to keep within view of some creepy robotic eyes, the game doesn’t quite have the flashiness of opening and closing portals. But Pneuma’s puzzles still have a low-key charm that, at their best, can be every bit as puzzling and mind-twisting — and, most importantly, frustratingly annoying — as those in the original.

Pneuma Breath of Life 2

Likewise, while the dialogue isn’t quite as snappy, it’s still a pretty well-written game. You’re playing as an anonymous being that’s suddenly sprang into existence, so you get to experience the joy he (it?) feels at simply being alive and discovering the world. Occasionally it all gets a little Intro to Philosophy-esque, but it makes me feel like a philistine to complain that a game took the Cartesian proposition of “I think, therefore I am” and turning it into a pretty viable plot.

Where the game really falls short, though, is in the presentation. For the most part, it looks pretty fantastic. But that’s also the problem — it’s almost too fantastic. I get that we’re talking about a game where everything has literally just come into being, but it still feels too gleaming and polished in places. Consequently, you’re left feeling as though what you’re experiencing is less a finished game and more a really cool tech demo.

And at the other end of the spectrum, there are points where the game doesn’t gleam quite enough. The breaks between each level come when you’re…I don’t know, transported (for lack of a better description) from one section to the next, and they’re marked by your vision going blurry and everything vanishing from view. That’s not the problem, though; the problem is that when you start each new section, your vision doesn’t always unblur fast enough, and as you move forward it can occasionally take a few moments before everything lightens up and becomes visible.

Pneuma Breath of Life 3

All in all, though, Pneuma: Breath of Life does a whole lot more right than it does wrong. I don’t think anyone’s going to be shortlisting it for the title of Best Game Ever any time soon, mind you, but it’s a solid enough game that it can be enjoyed on its own terms, rather than as just a lousy Portal clone.

Grade: B+