As we get ready for the digital edition of Gamescom, we take a look at a trio of recent releases with the console port of Manifold Garden, the Subject 2923 DLC for Remnant: From the Ashes and the new Australia Pack for Planet Zoo.
Manifold Garden is out now for PS4
Manifold Garden actually came out for the PlayStation 4 last week and we missed it then, but after seeing some footage from the game we couldn’t help diving in anyway and exploring this wonderful new puzzler from William Chyr – which already picked up a few awards as a PC title.
Although I love abstract puzzle games as well, some of the most memorable puzzle games in recent years have blended puzzle mechanics with a beautiful sense of style and art direction. This is true of little indie games like The Bridge, but can also been seen in more recent games like Q.U.B.E. 2 or The Sojourn. Manifold garden, with its use of Esher-like perspectives and dizzying vistas, certainly fits into that category.
Physics puzzlers make up another subgenre that’s been popular, from everyone’s favorite example Portal right down to small games like In Between from Headup Games. Again, Manifold Garden fits in, and I mention In Between for a reason. One of the core gameplay elements in William Chyr’s title involves flipping gravity around – as was the case in Headup’s 2D puzzler.
Manifold Garden is a 3D puzzle game played from a first person perspective, which means that whenever you walk towards a wall you can switch the direction in which gravity works and just start walking up it. Because you start indoors this is fairly easy to manage at first, but once you get past these tutorial-like scenes you quickly find yourself in a spot where you almost literally have to wrap your head around what you’re looking at before making a move towards solving the puzzle at hand.
Heading “outside” also means you get to appreciate the spectacular visuals that Manifold Garden offers, despite the seemingly minimalist approach you first see. Floating in an endless space that extends in all directions are large buildings, impressive trees and stair-like structures that all change and warp as you manipulate the gravity that determines your point of view.
The puzzle mechanic itself is often a classic case of holding down a switch with a cube that you have to place on top of it, with the added dimension of having to be on the right surface in order to do so, but perhaps needing to move to another one to get around the obstacles in your way. I’m oversimplifying, as the game gradually introduces new mechanics and presents gamers with very satisfying puzzles indeed – ones that slowly but surely help you breathe life (and color) into the world around you.
Once most of the core mechanics are in place, Manifold Garden can be a disorienting experience, but if you pay attention to them there are plenty of visual and auditory clues to help you out, from color-coded surfaces to visual and musical nudges in the right direction. Because of these, I never felt lost, even when falling down a seemingly endless abyss only to land on a completely new surface – which turned out to be a reflection of one I had been previously on. Powerful mind-bending stuff, and a puzzle experience well worth exploring – very glad this came to consoles!
Remnant: From the Ashes – Subject 2923 DLC released
Back in 2018, Remnant: From the Ashes was one of the pleasant surprises we encountered during the big trade show season. Then, after its release in 2019, it turned out to be one of that year’s best games – a title we feel wasn’t too far behind from getting a few ‘game of the year’ nods here and there. Now, its final DLC addon is here with Subject 2923, and we couldn’t wait to see if it’s a fitting send-off for Gunfire/Perfect World’s game.
While we enjoyed the previously released Swamps of Corsus expansion, we had also hoped for more narrative/campaign-driven content. And where Corsus focused on a new game mode (Survival), Subject 2923 delivers on the campaign from with new story content that picks up where the base game left off when it was released exactly a year ago.
The new story missions will see you traversing new areas in the game world in your quest to combat the “Root”, and you’ll encounter new enemies as well as allies while doing so. Aside from a few new bosses that you’ll run into, the new enemies don’t feel radically different from what we saw before and the same can be said about the locations – Subject 2923 is consistent rather than transformative as a gameplay experience, whereas Swamps of Corsus aimed to do the opposite.
While Subject 2923 isn’t super-heavy on new story content, it felt nice to flesh out the game world more by discovering what happened to the Dreamers. The narrative in this DLC might feel a tad underdeveloped, but it does reaffirm that the world of Remnant is one that we hope to see again a future sequel or spin-off title. Other changes that come with Subject 2923 are more incremental as well, with new weapons, gear and rewards having been added – some of these also enriching the Survival elements that were introduced with Swamps of Corsus.
If your main interest for Remnant was with its story-driven campaign then this is definitely the expansion to get. It’s not as rich of an experience as I would have liked, but Remnant set a high bar in that sense and I’m just glad I got to experience more of it.
Planet Zoo: Australia Pack
Steadily expanding its lineup of animals and scenery elements, Frontier has just released the Australia Pack for Planet Zoo – a new expansion that gives you the opportunity to equip your zoo with a bit more of that “down under” feeling.
As with previous expansions, the included animals are front and center in this expansion, and the pack comes with what I felt was one of the bigger omissions up to this point: the red kangaroo. Iconic for the continent of Australia, these animals look great and seeing them move around their enclosure is a definite crowd-pleaser.
The same is true about another iconic animal people associate with Australia: the Koala. Although typically associated with a photo opportunity, you get to see them in their “natural” habitat in Planet Zoo now as you prepare an enclosure for them that allows them to climb, interact with one another or just relax in the shade.
Three additional animals bring the grand total for Planet Zoo up to 80 different animal species at this point (including the previously released DLC packs). Joining the Kangaroo and Koala – undeniably the stars of this pack – are the Dingo, Southern Cassowary and Eastern Blue-Tongued Lizard, the latter one only being available in exhibit form. And if you thought 80 was impressive – we’re pretty sure we’ll see more expansions and our money is on seals and penguins making it into the game as some point.
In addition to the new animals, the Australia Pack also provides a new challenge to tackle, giving you another objective-driven way to play. Prefer the sandbox approach, then over 230 new scenery elements can be used. Some of them are distinctly Australian in nature and allow you to create that “outback” feel in a new themed area of your zoo, and others fit in just as well with existing parts of your zoo or the commercial establishments you’ve placed within it. It’s more of the Planet Zoo that you know and love, and it will just make fans hungry for even more as they keep expanding their digital animal sanctuaries.