System: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC | Publisher: Annapurna Interactive | Developer: Graceful Decay | Reviewed On: PlayStation 5 | Released: March 2021
Maquette is an unusual puzzle game with a beautiful modern take on an everyday relationship, that explores the beginning, middle and end of relationships that come and go throughout our journey in life. The puzzle element is set in a model world that you are part of for the story, you can manipulate objects around you to make them bigger or smaller in this recursive world where you literally must think outside the box to solve the puzzles within.
Let me start by saying, this is a hard review to write in some ways which is down to the uniqueness of this game that Developer Graceful Decay has created for us to explore. The story centre's around Michael and Kenzie, played by Hollywood actors Seth Gabel and Bryce Dallas Howard, as the story begins, we are place in this world where we learn their story through sentences that will appear in the world and the cutscenes. The cutscenes are unusual but great visually as the couple talk it is as if a drawing is being done of that scene, as the game has you learning about their story after it has already been written.
I have added a cast reveal of Maquette which shows off some of what I have talked about above, to hopefully give you a clearer idea of what this game is like before I attempt to dive further into this game going forward. Wish me luck.
The game’s opening chapter has you work your way through the gardens as a beautiful song - San Franciscan Nights by Gabor Szabo & The California Dreamers plays, setting the tone and feel of the game straight off the bat. The game is set in first person and is basically a walking simulator, same style of game as the likes of What Remains of Edith Finch, which, funnily enough, is another published game by Annapurna Interactive. As you walk through the Gardens level, the story unravels with text appearing in places as well as the various cutscenes you will encounter through each level, this is just a slither of what the game has in store in this opening level, it is merely to get you used to the controls, there is only a couple to learn so it is a nice easy game that anyone can pick up and play.
The next level is called The Maquette, which is where you spend the majority of the game, as you explore all it has to offer, exploring for the story threads and solving the unique puzzles. The puzzle element is a nice touch to make it feel more engaging than your typical walking sim, I should say the puzzles are not overly difficult once you get to grips with the idea behind how they work. The controls are simple to use, as all you do is pick up objects and then you can rotate/move them to fit the puzzle/door you are trying to unlock/complete. It is how you must use your environment to complete the puzzles set before you, with this recursive world, anything you place in the model of the main area you are in appears bigger in the part of the world you inhabit. Likewise, if you take something from your area and place outside, you can go to the model and find it smaller. Again, I am probably not doing this mechanic justice, but it was a refreshing idea and one that I enjoyed exploring. For example, one of the first puzzles in The Maquette level you will find is a very big, red, square block that you cannot move but is blocking your path, so when you go to the smaller model of this area in the centre, you will see the same block but smaller, you can now lift it up from the model and place it somewhere else, once you do this you will find the bigger version has moved to where you have placed it in the model, clearing the obstacle from your path and allowing you to continue onwards.
This is the basis for all the puzzles such as using a key to make a bridge, as the key is big enough to be placed into the model to cover an area you cannot reach then on the outside that key will become enlarged and now you can cross the previously unattainable area. It keeps the puzzles interesting and gets you to really think about what each object could be utilized for. The story beats are spread out enough to give you a rest from solving puzzles and at the same time furthering the story. Beyond these basic mechanics, there is not much else to know regarding the game, it is a puzzle game with a beautifully acted love story waived through the game, the setting is beautiful and even though a good chunk of levels are set in The Maquette area, it still feels varied enough when exploring.
Maquette is a beautiful game, with a very colourful art style that fitted the game extremely well especially at the beginning of the game, as the beautiful colours meshed well with the story at that point and kept the theme going as the story unfolds. This game is extremely easy on the eyes, even the cutscenes were visually exciting as they are being drawn as the scene develops with our characters talking, which was such a unique way of presenting a cutscene, and I for one really enjoyed these moments as it added another layer in visual form to the story. Doing the scenes in this way makes sense as our characters are brought together because of their love for sketching.
The soundtrack to Maquette was truly exceptional, I loved the music choice within this game, as every time a song hit, usually after a new development within the relationship story arc, had me close to tears as the relationship story really hits home and is extremely relatable to what we really go through in life with personal relationships. Dolores Park by Cannons and Clouds was one that really stuck out to me during my time with the game that gave me instant feels.
My overall experience with this game is extremely positive, I have thought about this game a lot as I was not sure how to score it and I have gone back and forth on it numerous times. When I first finished the game I was left wanting, wanting more, expecting more, I am not sure what I was truly feeling in that moment. I took time away before writing this to decide where I stood on the game, I loved the story the more I thought about it and how relatable it is, I am sure plenty of people will resonate with the game due to how well they do the story, I actually wish the game was longer to dive into the characters relationship more, I felt the story in some ways was brief. The game can be completed in a night, the puzzles make you think for sure but once you understand how the game wants you to tackle puzzles, a lot of them become samey but due to the powerfulness of the story I hardly noticed during my time, it was not till long after I was finished these thoughts entered my head. My final thoughts on Maquette are that this is a good game with a story that can easily pull you in and get you comparing to relationships you have had, the puzzles make this less walking sim in between the story beats and get you to engage with the world the developer has created for you, which is a stunning looking world for sure. The big thing I would say is, there is not any replay value, I do not see myself going back to this game anytime soon, and yet the story affected me enough that the game is sticking with me in my thoughts long after I have put the game down which is a testament to the story that has been told. This game is well worth your time if you are a fan of walking sim styled games, the story is well crafted, the puzzles are unique and will getting you literally thinking outside the box, a relaxing experience that will get your brain working, in more ways than one.