Manifold Garden Review (PS5) – An M.C. Escher Refresher
Arriving on PS5, Manifold Garden is still one of the best and most though provoking puzzle games on the market. The Finger Guns Review.
In my estimation, Manifold Garden is one of the best puzzle games to release in the past 5 years. I said that when the game first launched on PC back in 2019. I reiterated it when I reviewed the game for its Xbox One launch in 2020. Now here I am in 2021, saying it again for the PlayStation 5 launch.
You’d think I’d be tired of playing through Manifold Garden, having done so 3 times already. I’m not. Each time I’ve had a chance to play it, it has been improved somewhat. The Xbox One version that I called “the best first person puzzle game since Portal 2” last year had been significantly tightened up over the original PC version I’d played a year prior. The PS5 version doesn’t see any huge design improvements but does improve the overall experience. I’d go as far as to say that the PS5 version is the definitive way to play Manifold Garden. Why? Let’s get into it…
Making The Impossible Possible
Manifold Garden is a game that takes the core principles of artist M.C. Escher’s work – impossible geometry, complex architectural mazes, portals and perspective based reality – and adapts them for game play mechanics. At one point in development, this game was titled Relativity after the Escher print it was inspired by. While the core aims of the game are familiar in the puzzle genre, everything else about Manifold Garden is entirely unique, steeped in imaginative artwork.
Most of the objectives in Manifold Garden are self explanatory. A result of expert iterative design, this game boils down its puzzles into simple to understand aims. Put the block there. Activate the switch here. Line up the world objects so that this line on the floor is connected. Actually achieving any of this is easier said than done however.
That’s because the world of Manifold Garden follows a few unique rules. Primarily, the whole game is contained within looping worlds. Walk off one platform and you’ll fall forever, passing the same platform you stepped off repeatedly. Thankfully, it’s possible to move in the air so that you can guide your fall rather than plummeting forever. See a platform above your head? It’s also somewhere below you too.
The Gravity Of The Situation
What complicates this further is that the player gets to dictate the direction in which gravity travels. Walk up to a wall, close enough to touch it with your target reticule, and press the R2 trigger and you’ll walk onto the wall. This effectively makes that plane of existence the ground. Each gravitational plane also corresponds to a colour. As you change the direction in which gravity pulls, you change the hue of the world in general. Combine this with the looping world and you’re effectively able to explore every surface in the game.
The changing directional force of gravity is the core puzzle component in Manifold Garden. The various hues of the world correspond to blocks and platforms. These items are only effected by gravity when their corresponding colour is triggered. Drop a block in the centre of the floor and then walk up a wall and that block will sit there, stuck to the centre of the wall. Many of the puzzles in this game require manipulating this system, like stacking different coloured blocks and then changing the plane of gravity to essentially stick an active block to the ceiling.
New puzzle elements are gradually added as the player progresses. Water becomes a feature. When flowing is headed along the correct gravitational plane, it can power water wheels. Outside of the correct gravitational pull, they become frozen solid bridges that can be used to cross gaps. Those blocks I mentioned earlier? Placed in the path of a stream and they can change the water’s direction. Eventually, you’ll be shifting giant pieces of the world in order connect a circuit between a switch and a locked door.
Many off the puzzles are linked together in Manifold Garden. For example, early on you reach a platform which is connected to 3 other platforms, each of which has their own set of self contained puzzles. Solve those puzzles and you’ll activate a laser which plays into the over arcing solution for the entire area. Pulling these threads together to satisfy the the bigger problems is very gratifying by design.
The puzzle structure in this game is constantly evolving, keeping it fresh and inventive. Manifold Garden is a title full of eureka moments that don’t ever feel too frustrating to achieve.
A Kaleidoscope Of Impossible Geometry
The aim of solving these puzzles is to clear away a corruption and bring the game world to life. This isn’t an explicit objective. Manifold Garden is a hands off experience without a structured narrative, way points or direct instruction. It doesn’t tell you to do anything. Instead, you’re presented with an enticing world in which you can explore and in which you can enact change. Despite there being no way points or directions, Manifold Garden is a very easy game to read and identify what you’ve got to solve next.
The rewards for solving the puzzles aren’t just a dopamine hit and a sense of satisfaction either. After each overarching puzzle is solved, you’re treated to a dazzling visage of morphing shape and colour. Like looking through a kaleidoscope of impossible geometry, you can sit and watch this gorgeous morphing scene unfold for as long as you want.
The entire of Manifold Garden is gorgeous to look at, if not traditionally pretty. The world is initially stark, full of lines and edges. The further you get through the world, the more complex the architecture becomes and the more colour it adopts. Even when you’re bringing nature to the world, there’s an ever present brutalist meets place of worship aesthetic to the buildings.
Combine that will the looping nature of the world and it can create some frankly stunning visages to take in. Spiralled staircases that seem to go on forever. Falling through white space as identical structures whizz by either side of you. Mazes that seem to go on until infinity. It can be breathtaking at times.
Some of the best moments in Manifold Garden are when it uses the tenets of Escher’s artwork to create bemusing effects. In on room, a left set of stairs ascends to a doorway and a right set of stairs descend to a doorway. Regardless of which set of stairs you take, you’ll exit in the same place. There’s portal doorways that have different worlds on either side of them. Rooms have staircases that loop in on themselves. It can be disorientating as you’re discovering these instances but it gives this entire game a truly enigmatic feel.
PS5 Improvements For Manifold Garden
So what has improved in the PlayStation 5 version of Manifold Garden? Well, the resolution has been increased to take advantage of the extra power of the console. The game now runs at native 4K resolution locked at 60 frames per second. I’m not usually one that can see a massive difference between 1080p and 4K but even I have to admit that the game looks incredibly crisp in the higher resolution. The actual visual quality of the game has been improved too. A significant increase in draw distance means that those impressive scenes of complex architecture reaching on for what feels like forever are all the more impressive.
The biggest improvement to the PS5 version which makes this the definitive version of the game is the haptic feedback via the DualSense controller. The implementation here isn’t just your standard rumble. It’s gentle. Measured. Open a door and you get a little rumble from the direction. Drop a cube into a box and you feel each move of the mechanism below it. Fall and you’ll fell the thud in your hands as you land. The most impressive usage is when the controller is replicating the patter of rain. It’s not as powerful as the vibrations found during the likes of Returnal but it’s still very good. The uses here certainly make Manifold Garden more immersive.
If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed that the use of the DualSense controller didn’t go further. There’s no use of the adaptive triggers at all, that I had noticed. Despite there being a multicoloured light in the controller, it doesn’t make use of it either. The haptics are great but there was potentially room to do more.
Completing The Puzzle
Last year, I said this about Manifold Garden: “This game will challenge you, but it won’t overwhelm. It uses traditional puzzle mechanics that are easy to understand and blends them with the surreal and the new so that it feels totally fresh. It allows us to experience the tenets of an artist’s creations first hand and in living technicolour. An extensive photo mode means you can collect virtual keepsakes of this journey. If there ever was a game that proves “Games can be art”, it’s Manifold Garden – but more importantly it answers a new question. “Can art be a video game?”. The answer? Yes. A brilliant one.”
All of this is still true of the PS5 version. It’s a game that converts M.C. Escher’s art work into one of the best puzzle games that money can buy. The game design is masterful. The environment is unlike anything else out there. There’s a hefty 8 hours of puzzles which are constantly fresh and novel. There’s still a hand full of tiny issues in the game – some music cuts off very abruptly when stepping through a portal door, for example – but they are so inconsequential, I hesitate to write about them at all.
Excellent use of the DualSense haptics, improved visuals and 4K resolution @ 60 frames per second mean that the PS5 version of Manifold Garden is the definitive version of a truly excellent game. Transforming the tenets of M.C. Escher’s artwork into a fascinating and enigmatic puzzle game, this title is still one of the best in the genre to release in recent times. If you’ve yet to play it, this is the best way to do so. If you’ve already got it on PS4, you’ll get this upgrade for free and it’s worth another look.
Manifold Garden is launching on the PS5 on May 20th, 2021. The game is already available on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S | X, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: William Chyr Studio
Publisher: William Chyr Studio
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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