Developed by Graceful Decay
Published by Annapurna Interactive
Reviewed on PS5 (also available on PS4 and PC)
Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. From riddles, physics-based ones, numerical conundrums and those derived from patterns. Maquette takes this idea quite literally. Developed by Graceful Decay, Maquette is a puzzle adventure that boasts unique and mind-bending puzzles, while also telling a touching tale with themes that many will find relatable.
As someone that adores puzzle games, does Maquette live up to its ambitious design? Keep reading to find out.
This first-person adventure takes place across a number of levels, each varied in their design and meaning. You’ll be exploring these somewhat linear areas, as you try to solve countless puzzles that manipulate and twist the very world around you. It’s a concept that feels wholly unique that truly tests the player’s perception.
As the name of the game suggests, the mechanics and premise are designed around the idea of maquettes. These are small versions of a sculptor’s model, building, etc, that can be used to visualise and adapt what the final product will be. In Maquette, there are three versions of the levels – small, normal and large – that you will constantly manipulate to progress. These start off simple but get progressively more complex. This is all works alongside the narrative to provide an innovative and memorable experience.
A Personal and Emotional Story
When I saw trailers and screenshots for Maquette, I was simply anticipating an experience full of challenging puzzles and beautiful visuals. While it definitely provides that, what I wasn’t expecting was the game to have such a sweet and compelling narrative. It’s a simple tale about two individuals and their relationship’s journey, a modern-day love story.
As you play through this roughly 3-hour adventure, you’ll uncover and witness more and more about Michael and Kenzie, buried in the world. Told through text from the perspective of Michael, as well as some audio, we get to see the entire span of their relationship as memories. From how they first met, the high points, the conflicts, to the poignant ending, I was invested in their story. A nice touch is the way that the memories are presented. The voices will play alongside drawings/paintings of key aspects or themes of that particular memory. Since their first conversation was about art and they often connected through that, it’s a charming touch that not only elevates the story, but also the visual design.
The story wouldn’t carry the same weight if it wasn’t for the characters and voice delivery themselves. Both of them are quite awkward in some moments, they’re funny, charming and just pretty endearing and relatable people. One thing that stands out for me is the chemistry between them, it feels so natural and really grounds the characters in this narrative. Once the credits rolled, it was obvious why, as they are played by real-life partners, Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel. This was such a smart decision, as it makes all their interactions feel all the more real, even when I didn’t know this piece of information. They both bring so much to the roles and it’s obvious right from the start.
Overall, the story is well executed and a roller-coaster of emotions. If there was something to improve, it would be that I wish I got to spend more time with them. There are moments where I thought seeing more memories would help flesh out motivations and reasonings, so that the progression of the relationship flows better. Having said that, it could have negatively impacted the pacing, so I understand why this isn’t the case. Either way, I love the tale and characters.
The puzzle design and mechanics are what really make Maquette stand out from others in the genre. As I mentioned earlier, much of your time will be exploring the levels and solving environmental puzzles based around scale. In the three, different sized versions of the world, there will be specific items for you to interact with. These can be re-sized through manipulation of the multiple worlds. What happens in one version, simultaneously happens in the others. This interactivity between different scales is so mind-bending, but it allows for some genius design throughout.
One example to explain this would be if you need to progress over a wall. You can manipulate an item like a key, moving it from the regular-sized world to the smaller variant, in order to create a ramp that you can now use in the regular-sized world to travel over. This is just one basic example, but it gives you an idea of the way in which puzzles work in this game and how unique the overall design and premise is.
Maquette can be a bit overwhelming at first, taking a while to get to grips with the way in which you can interact with objects. However, it really forces you to think outside of the box and experiment with how you can use the mechanics to your advantage. There are times in which the solutions can be a bit obtuse, or the controls are quite fiddly. This can be a pain, especially if you’re going for the speed run trophies. But overall, the design really pays off in the end and left me wanting more.
Visuals and Level Design
Maquette is a truly beautiful game to behold. It has an art style similar to that of The Witness in some ways, with an ethereal quality that is pretty striking. It holds up throughout the experience regardless of what type of location you’re in. From suburban surroundings, exotic buildings, to even cosmic areas, the graphics are exceptional.
What really stands out is the sheer ambitiousness of the level design and premise. The concept of three versions of a world, all folding within one another, interacting and rendering at the same time is mighty impressive. Despite this amount of interactivity and manipulation, care is taken to ensure you can’t break the world and ruin your progression. At one point I fell out into the larger world and thought I couldn’t get back. But there are doors and lifts to take you back to where you were if this happens. It shows that the developers thought of potential issues with these mechanics. It can be hard to explain just how awe-inspiring and staggering the level design in Maquette is, you really have to experience it for yourself.
One aspect I didn’t like was the lack of a chapter select feature. This is something which is in pretty much all games that are similar to this style and structure, so it ends up being a glaring omission. This is made worse by the fact that many of the achievements involve speed-running levels. Your only option is to make sure to save at the beginning of each level, but even then, the number of save slots is limited. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s important to mention, nonetheless.
As soon as I heard a bit of the music from the icon on the PS5 home screen, I instantly knew I would be in for a treat. It’s a very subdued and relaxing soundtrack, that perfectly captures the tone and style of the game and its chapters. The melodic piano pieces are absolutely beautiful, bolstering the different scenes’ emotional payoff. It may not be particularly grand in terms of production, but its subtlety felt right at home and still left a positive impression on me.
This game wasn’t on my radar at all, and I didn’t even know it existed until a few weeks before launch. I’m so glad that I was able to experience this dynamic puzzle game, with a design and narrative full of heart and detail. I do wish it was longer and it can be strange at times trying to remember how you can manipulate the world to progress. But Maquette ends up being a game worthy of your time if you’re up for the challenge. Following Michael and Kenzie’s relationship through all the ups and downs was brilliant, with a poignant ending that will stick with you long after. It’s a game of both miniscule and epic proportions, that consistently blew me away with its scale and approach.
Honest Rating = 8.5/10
You can buy your copy of Maquette from the PlayStation Store.
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.
This sounds just like my type of game – I love environmental puzzles and it’s even better if they are part of an engaging story. Just s shame it’s not on XBox or Switch…
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I know, I wish more people could experience this game as I think it’s something special.