There's a moment around about a third of the way into Pneuma's three/four hour runtime where you'll consider that the game may, in fact, be taking the piss. Not out of you: instead, out of all those first-person walking games people complain about (walking, of course, being the weakest of all movements), out all those games that feature twee British voice actors babbling incessantly over the top of everything you do. Those games.
Instead, the near-endless stream of consciousness barking into your brain becomes not a takedown of the C-list VO industry but serves to make a bigger point. Pneuma's world is serene: there are no guns, no perks, no jetpacks, no teabagging. There are hidden exits like in Doom, but that's it. All it asks of you is to navigate the world, solving a puzzle to open up the next area. Its permanent, high-noon sunshine, elaborate marble facades that recall ancient Rome and Greece, and conundrums all work with the voiceover to keep the story rolling towards its conclusion, asking simple but less than straightforward questions such as: if I'm the god of this supposed afterlife I'm floating through, why can't I open this door?
It's a good question, and self-doubt is one of the various devices Pneuma uses to offer an interesting take on the role of the player, on agency, and other related topics. It's worth seeing out for its ending at least. Most puzzles are based upon spatial manipulation; maneuvering either yourself, an element of the environment, or both in order to open the locked door that stands in your way. There's often a hint contained in immediate vicinity, and sometimes the voiceover will allude to what you need to do to progress.
Unfortunately, the puzzles themselves aren't that memorable, and even worse it feels like some of them can be solved by blustering through, rather than actually working out the key. Some require you only to walk around an object, or, erm, walk backwards up some stairs. Simplicity isn't always a problem in puzzlers, and Pneuma does have some interesting stuff (rotating a building around its axis to enable light to pass through; the focus on observation and perspective-based solutions, which tie into the main theme).
Instead, Pneuma's appeal lies in its successful creation of a world that inspires at least some curiosity as to exactly why you're there, openly challenging the various incongruities of game design and world-building in its discussion of the player's role. It's preoccupied with watching and being watched, represented via giant, stylised eyes that often must be interacted with in order to proceed. Some need to be observed for a certain amount of time, others in sequence, but each add to a notion that things are not as they seem, creating a sense of doubt as to who really controls this world that you apparently made, and as to who 'you' really are.
It's an interesting game, and one that seems better in retrospect. This is helped enormously by the ending, which sheds light on the previous few hours while also making players want to go through it again to see what they've missed (a lot, I would bet, given the hidden rooms dotted about). The serenity fostered by its aesthetic can be undercut by frustration, especially in certain puzzles that appear to be more about luck than judgement, meaning that despite its relative brevity it can feel a little like a slog.
Once the credits have rolled, however, it will seem less like time wasted. You won't forget the game's other failings as easily: its art direction is let down by it looking in places like the sort of CGI you'd find in an ambitious yet disappointing old PC game, and on Xbox One at least there are texture problems (flickering/corruption) and frame rate issues.
It's a small price to pay, however, for a game that attempts - and, in a lot of ways, succeeds - in giving players a different experience to the ones that they would usually encounter, certainly on new-gen. It can appear pompous and over-reaching, and those who buy it for the puzzles alone will walk away disappointed. As a package though, it's worth checking out.