What is life? Who am I? Are those my feet? These, and many other pseudo-philosophical questions are what Pneuma: Breath of Life attempts to answer - if by "attempts to answer", you mean "repeatedly asks in an attempt to make itself look clever".
A downloadable first person puzzler, close comparisons can be drawn between Pneuma and the physics defying science fest Portal, only here, rather than a fancy gun that can create a bridge (or portal) between any two sections, you have a man who asks a lot of questions. A lot of questions. From the word go, almost every time you even so much as think about enter a new area or room, your nameless, bodiless, soulless main character will start spewing pointless platitudes about everything from the meaning of life to the existence of systems, like an undergraduate philosophy student after a few pints. Thankfully, before too long, you start to just tune him out - and luckily, there's a lot more to Pneuma than meets the *ahem* eye.
Still, if you take Portal, get rid of the story and humour - not to mention the portal gun itself - and replace it with a man who can ask questions and look at things, you'll be pretty close to Pneuma. Yes, along with being able to talk for England about nothing at all, your main character's special power is the ability to control things with his mind and/or sight. Beyond a few buttons that need to be pushed, every single puzzle in Pneuma can be solved through the power of sight alone, as all you need to do is look at objects to take control of them in some way. Whether it's gazing longingly at a blue eye switch next to a door that'll let you open it, rotating a bridge with the flick of an eye, or turning a light on by simply giving it a lustful gaze, your vision is your power, and your power is your vision. Or something like that.
How you'll put that to use depends on the puzzle you're trying to solve. Split into six chapters, each of which contains several rooms of puzzles, it's up to you to figure out what you have to look at, and in what way to open the door to the next room. Sometimes all you have to do is overcome a shy door, and look away, back-pedalling furiously as soon as you hear the wood creak open. Sometimes (often) the clues are hidden in the roof, and gazing upwards will trigger something to happen on the ground, while at other times, you have to make use of perspective, and angles, to look through one thing to another.
It's all a bit confusing, so it's probably best to try and explain this with specific examples. Obviously, if you'd prefer to go in fresh, you should probably skip over this bit, but there are plenty more puzzles where these came from...
Here's a puzzle from around halfway through the game. In this room, there are five or six of these eye shapes dotted around. Every time you look at one of them, it makes a chime like Windows making an error. The puzzle here is fairly straightforward - you have to look at each of the chimes in order to play them in a sort of ascending scale, from lowest to highest. There's a lot of trial and error involved here, but the trickiest part is not in figuring out what to do - but actually doing it. Because you're playing in widescreen, and so therefore have a massive field of view, and because you don't have to directly look at one of these sensors to trigger it, it's far, far too easy to accidentally make them go "ping". Instead, the solution seems to be to look at the first one, then instantly look straight down at the floor like a scalded child, before attempting to find your way to the next target, bouncing off the walls as you go...
This one's even more confusing, at least to begin with. What you see in front of you isn't so much of a maze as half a maze. A "ma", if you will. You can move that block with the blue light on by moving your gaze - but you can't lift it up out of the maze. No amount of jumping will help you get past it. The solution? That's found on the roof, as the other half of the maze is hiding up there. All you need to do is manoeuvre the block as much as you can on the floor, before staring up at the ceiling to continue its journey. Once you've moved that one as much as you can, all you need to do is look back down at the ground, and the counter will mysteriously have moved... Unfortunately, this puzzle is also a great example of the game's somewhat broken HDR system, as looking at any light that's even slightly bright will render the rest of the screen almost totally pitch black - something that doesn't exactly lend itself to sliding counters around grids.
This room is shaped like a T-tetromino. No prizes for guessing what the arrow's telling you to do...
And so, Pneuma carries on. Part a game of observation and wit, and part of game of sheer guess work and luck, it has its highs and lows, with a simple puzzle followed by a trickier (yet rewarding brain teaser), only to be let down by two or three puzzles that you end up feeling like you've just lucked through rather than solved yourself. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, it's not actually all that clear what you actually have to do in order to clear a room. Even if you think you have a hunch, far too often you end up feeling like you've managed to luck, or perhaps even glitch your way through, rather than solving it thanks to your superior cranial capacity alone - and that robs the game of a lot of that feeling of reward that makes the toughest puzzle games so good. Even if you get the puzzle right, you're not always sure what you've done to make it right, so things can be a bit confusing.
When it works, though, Pneuma is a lot of fun, and there are plenty of puzzles in here that will have you feeling proud of yourself when you finally crack them. There just potentially aren't enough. With around half of the game being a bit iffy, and weighing in at a hefty £15.99, this isn't a game you can take a gamble on and see if you like it - it's one that's a pretty substantial investment. With no hint system to give you a helping hand should you get stuck (and believe us, getting stuck is quite likely), and with the whole game weighing in at around four or five hours long, depending on how long you spend stumped on the puzzles, this is one it's hard to recommend at the current price. With a price drop, the relaxing atmosphere and gentle brain teasing would become a lot more tempting.