Pnevmo-Capsula is a respectable solo outing from Pomeshkin Valentin Igorevich, and shows a lot of good video game design fundamentals. As a game built around a mail delivery system in a USSR-inspired atompunk world, it definitely feels fresh and full of potential. However, this short-lived adventure stops just shy of being fun. The project is missing the quality of puzzle needed to make this a stand-out title in the genre.
Story – Lurking in the Background
You play as a capsule tasked with delivering mail around, which you do by rolling along a series of rails that traverse the map. There are no cutscenes and no dialogue to speak of. Instead, all of the story-telling is environmental, or comes in the form of the letters you have to deliver.
There isn’t an awful lot to dive into here, but anyone who pays close attention will be able to pick up the fragments of the lore with relative ease. Everything exists many years in the future, where nuclear war has already ravaged the world and the world has since recovered. You can find in-game text that reveals that mankind has managed to spare themselves the fate of a dying sun by creating their own. The implication is that it was done by some form of nuclear-powered substitute, hence Pnevmo-Capsula claims to be atompunk.
You come across letters and newspapers that suggest a few details about what life is like in this world. For example, there are documents that detail the history of some of the technology in the game and some of its impact, although it’s all very bland and technical. You see some evidence of state surveillance and plenty of advertisements offering work in the fields of avionics and astronautics. In keeping with the theme, there are a load of government propaganda posters and artwork too. The most human story-telling beat is a letter you need to deliver, which describes a request for a funeral transport after what seems to be a crash. As far as story goes, it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t the main point of the experience.
Gameplay – The Bigger Let Down
You have very limited ways of interacting with the world. You can move the capsule along the pipe in one of two directions, speed up with the square button, and interact with the world by pressing X. This is totally fine, as it guides your attention towards the puzzles themselves, which are supposed to be the highlight of the experience anyway.
I’m sad to say, however, that the puzzles in Pnevmo-Capsula don’t really impress. Most of them are a simple matter of finding the right key-code hidden around the level and then typing it in. Others what I would call ‘obstacles’ rather than puzzles, and involve interacting with nodes to open gates. The PlayStation Trophies list refers to these sections as labyrinths. They don’t really require much brain-power to solve.
Of course, the game introduces a few novel elements every once in a while. There are sections where you have to activate sensors in order to print out a report, and there is a notable section where you are required to work with some light circuitry concepts to get a ramp to operate. However, they are hardly ever head-scratchers, and do little to spice things up significantly.
The main issue is that the puzzles do not deliver on the inherent promise of a puzzle game. The challenges never make you feel smart for solving them. They never make you feel like the creator is two steps ahead of you, or that what you are working on is truly intelligent. Because your interactions are always basic and everything feels same-y, it is more like a repetitive chore than fun. It doesn’t help that you can’t control the camera, which affects the way your movement inputs are read. One final observation is that there are sections based on simple traversal along rails. These just feel like padding, which is unwelcome in a game that is already so slow paced.
Graphics and Sound – Pnevmo-Capsula’s Strong Suit
The style is interesting, and works well for a game of this nature. You see things popping and whirring and clicking and it all feels very science-y and cool. The designs for some of the transport units are downright awesome, evoking a good balance between old-school and futuristic. Most of what you come across sits comfortably within the game’s own style, including the convincing lock-boxes that house/print out the messages you have to deliver. There are Soviet influences that are strong enough to be noticeable, but by no means overstay their welcome. It presents a world that I would love to see explored more, but from a different angle.
Pnevmo-Capsula doesn’t run especially smoothly, even on something as powerful as a PS5. Some objects slowly rotate, but jump and stutter when they do so. The physics are also as basic as they can afford to be, with your capsule drifting strangely when it falls off of the tracks. In general, the way that things move is stiff and unrealistic. It seems that might come with the limitations of the budget.
There are a variety of interesting and appropriate music choices. If more of the music leaned harder into its soviet inspiration, it would have been even better. You won’t struggle with anything for too long. This means the music will rarely bore you, which is great. The sound effects are also pretty competent. They are nothing to write home about, but feel transparent and like they should be there.
In general, the whole things feels remarkably well-rounded for a project developed for a single person. When you think about the array of design skills required to attend to every aspect of the game, you get the feeling that the creator is an all-rounder and worthy of respect. It’s a shame the gameplay doesn’t reach the heights it needed to.
Pnevmo-Capsula was reviewed on PS5. Key provided by Sometimes You.