A puzzling puzzler
Platform: PlayStation 5.
Available on: PlayStation 4 & 5, Microsoft Windows.
Developer: Graceful Decay.
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive.
Released: March 2nd 2021.
Annapurna Interactive is a publisher that has brought us some fantastic indie titles over the years. Games such as; What Remains of Edith Finch, Gone Home, Doughnut County, Outer Wilds, Journey and Kentucky Route Zero to name but a few. Titles like these gave me high hopes that going into Maquette that I was going to get a short but very enjoyable experience. The former definitely turned out to be true but the latter is a bit of a mixed bag.
So, let's solve the puzzle of why Maquette has delivered an underwhelming puzzle experience.
Boy meets girl
The narrative of Maquette is one we have all heard or personally experienced. It starts with a coffee shop ‘meet cute’ between the two main characters and follows the development of their relationship from the first kiss to the first fight and eventually break up. While we only ever get to hear the characters voices, they are brilliantly executed by Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gable. Howard in particular does an excellent job at conveying all the little annoyances that can build and eventually explode in a relationship. Good acting aside Maquette brings nothing new to this type of story relying on the same old tropes you have seen a hundred times before.
Where the story gets its right is in its framing of the world and puzzles. We enter this world of memories as Seth’s character finds an old shared sketchbook where the couple would draw their dream home or doodle about a trip to the fairground. All these places feature as areas in the game with puzzles to solve. The puzzles too, revolve around items from the memories all serving to keep you invested in this story heartbreak. While a nice plot framing device it is not enough to keep me from predicting exactly where the story was heading and hold my attention.
What is a Maquette?
The dictionary definition of a maquette is “a sculptor's small preliminary model or sketch”. This is an apt title as the main gameplay mechanic centres around a small diorama of the world you inhabit which when acted upon can cause changes to the real to occur outside of said diorama. For example, very early in the game, there is a large gap that needs to be crossed with seemingly no way to do so. Then you find a small model of a bridge, pick it up and palace it in the part of the diorama that is the same as the area with the gap and hey presto a real life-sized bridge appears in the real world.
While I liked this idea as a gameplay mechanic, easy to solve puzzles meant it wore thin fast. I thought when the game introduced an inception like model within a model that made me have to think about altering items across dimensions of varying size would increase the challenge. Unfortunately, this was not the case and the puzzles never felt any more difficult than they did in the beginning. This is my largest gripe with Marquette. For a game being packaged as a puzzler, the only puzzling part was how little difficulty they had.
Style over substance
One thing that really jumps out about Maquette is its art style. Reminiscent of games like The Witness with vivid colours and a dream-like shimmer. I often found myself stopping for a moment to fully take in the scene laid out in front of me. Grateful Decay did a great job of having the world feel like it's coming from memories and drawings from the characters. Nothing here is realistic as it shouldn’t be because it's been dreamt up by our protagonists. However, as nice as all that style is, I still had some frame stutters when moving the camera which took me out of the fantasy from time to time. I guess the power of the PS5 still has not fixed some of these ‘indie’ issues.
Another point in the style over substance category goes to the game's soundtrack which is made up of some incredible songs from artists like; Meredith Edgar, Cannons and Clouds, Jay som and many more. While I must admit I am unfamiliar with these artists I know a great song when I hear one and these really are great. They serve as great emotional story beats helping to frame moments in the game. In the aftermath of the couple’s first kiss, a very upbeat high energy song really helps you get into the emotional state of a person who is overjoyed at such a momentous occasion.
Do we have the solution?
Maquette is by no means a bad game, just a mediocre one. Easy puzzles are not going to give puzzle game fans the real test they crave from this genre. Unfortunately, people coming here for the story may be disappointed due to its cliche nature. Fans of games as artistic expression will probably find what they are after due to the wonderful visuals and soundtrack. With the game featuring as part of this month's PlayStation Plus line up it might be worth a go just for that artistic experience but certainly not for that puzzle-solving dopamine hit.
Play this game if…
You like awesome music
You like an easy puzzle experience
You enjoy beautiful art styles
You like well voiced and acted charters.
All images are taken from the Maquette press kit here
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