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Dingy, Dark, Bloody Fun

Finding Horror In The Familiar

I'll be the first person to admit that horror isn't usually my genre of choice, but once in a while, I like to dive into a spine-chilling title - especially if it's of the more cerebral, atmospheric variety. As such, I was excited about the opportunity to spend some time in the dark, twisted world of Pneumata. For this preview, I was given access to a small slice of the game, which we were advised takes place somewhere in the middle of the overall narrative. Moreover, the available gameplay segment has been tweaked and altered from how it will appear in the full release to give a better taste of the wider experience. As such, it is hard to comment on overall pacing and some design elements, but it is clear that there's a lot of promise here for fans of the genre.

I'll admit that the very first moments of the Pneumata preview gave me quite the hit of deja vu. Not for any game in particular, but the concept of a dark, run-down detention centre explored on foot with a flashlight is a variation on a set-up incredibly common in this flavour of horror game. However, cliches often become cliches for a reason, and in this case, it's because bloody jails and asylums happen to be creepy as heck. Fortunately, as often seems to be the case, the former workers of this questionable establishment happened to leave handy resources like lock combinations written on paper right next to the lock.

Combat And Puzzles

This Pneumata preview didn't take long to put me face to face with a horrifying pig-head-wearing individual bent on my demise (which, again, is fairly cliche but nonetheless unnerving) who popped out of a group bathroom/shower. He was easily taken out with gunfire, revealing a bloody head crab-looking critter that targeted me as its next victim. Such is combat throughout this slice of Pneumata. Enemies aren't fast and don't take too much damage to drop, but ammunition can be hard to come by.

Melee is also an option, and I was able to use a crowbar and bat to fend off enemies with a mix of strikes, dodges, and blocks. Moreover, I was also able to combine nails and a bat to make a more formidable weapon, likely foreshadowing more creative inventory options to come in the full game. Combat feels reasonable enough for a non-shooter title - nothing to write home about, but responsive and straightforward enough not to detract from the atmosphere that is clearly Pneumata's real strength.

There's also some light puzzle-solving in Pneumata, but, to be frank, it didn't quite grab me. Exploration and navigation will clearly play a bigger role in the full game, given the presence of a full area map early on, but puzzles here are mostly escape-room-style sets of "find the number written on a piece of paper or in an email or the access card hidden in a box, then return to where it's needed." It's a staple of the genre and creates perfectly valid excuses to work around the environments, but it left me wanting a bit more. However, given that this is, again, a small slice of the game, different environments and gameplay elements will surely surface elsewhere.

Visual Fidelidy

As I mentioned, a jail or asylum isn't the most inspired setting for a horror game, but Pneumata does well to deliver well-made and affecting locales. Amid the bloody hallways, desks, cells, bathrooms, and more are unsettlingly pulsating areas of flesh, seemingly engulfing rooms as they spread. Really, the visuals are wonderfully disturbing throughout. Lighting is used well to accentuate the mood, and, impressively, there isn't a reliance on jump-scares to make things creepy. Everything else does so just fine. My only gripe with the visual design is that the player character's hands and weapons are constantly blurred. I understand the attempt to mimic focal lengths and blur, but having a portion of the screen constantly unclear was fairly distracting. Hopefully, in the full release, the effect is a toggle in the settings allowing a more traditionally clear view during gameplay.

Given this is only a small slice of the larger game, I spent my time living a version of the Ant Man "what the hell happened here" meme. While what exactly is going on will undoubtedly be explained in the full release, the mystery was welcome, and I enjoyed being thrown into the proverbial deep end. There are a few teases dropped throughout about the detention centre staff running morally bankrupt experiments on the prisoners (like, say, feeding them to pigs), but what's causing the widespread mutations and fleshy growth on the walls is something that will have to wait for the full release.
Ultimately, I was impressed with Pneumata's ability to build atmosphere, which is critical in this type of horror experience. The big question is whether the game will be able to rise above its familiar elements and deliver some more unique locations, enemies, and moments. If it can, Pneumata will be an easy recommendation for fans of the genre when it comes out in Q2 2024.

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