‘MAQUETTE’: GAME REVIEW
In French, the word “maquette” translates to a sculptor’s preliminary sketch before undertaking their main project. In its latest offering, recursive puzzle game Maquette, Annapurna Interactive transforms that concept into a narrative which delivers an intimate retelling of a modern relationship.
The game’s narrative centers on the relationship between Kenzie and Michael, told through the couple’s sketchbook. Their shared drawings serve as a tapestry of their history, written in a language uniquely their own. As their story evolves, the landscape within the game shifts with it. Whimsical scenes of early infatuation give way to homey imaginations after the couple’s first “I love you,” before venturing out onto a grey and fractured street as the relationship falls apart.
Maquette’s story is told from a first-person perspective. Even when players pick up objects to solve a puzzle, no hands are visible, allowing players to fully immerse themselves in the story.
In this way, the game feels uniquely personal, drawing players into a relationship that may have been doomed from the start. As puzzles are completed, cutscenes of animations from the sketchbook appear, giving insight into the memories that took place over the course of Kenzie and Michael’s relationship. Players witness through these drawings the couple’s meet-cute, their best day ever, the beginnings of the breakdown and a major fight. As players move through the landscape, walls of text appear, narrating the story between the cutscenes, pointing out un-sketched milestones, such as when a quirk ceased to be cute and began to grow annoying.
Maquette’s world is fairly straightforward to navigate, functioning much like a traditional Russian nesting doll. Each level consists of an outer world, a regular world and a miniature world under a red dome. All three tableaus are nearly identical, differing in size and scope only. While players can easily jump onto rooftops in the mini-landscape, they will be incapable of jumping up one stair in the massive outer world. The middle world, meanwhile, is “regular”-sized and players can interact with objects and spaces as normal.
Players can use this to their advantage. In fact, spatial awareness is key to solving most of Maquette’s puzzles. Objects in the game exist in all three worlds simultaneously, and if an object is moved in the mini-world, the shift will be reflected in the regular and outer worlds. It’s also possible to move objects between the different worlds, resizing them in the process.
The varying sizes of the play areas are what makes Maquette shine. The early levels, brightly lit with all the hopes of a new relationship blooming, take place primarily in the regular and mini-sized worlds, allowing players to feel perfectly in control of their surroundings. However, as the game progresses and Kenzie and Michael’s relationship begins to fall apart, players are required to explore the massive outer world. This is where cracks become chasms, where what used to be easy is now a slow trudge, and even the player’s speed is reduced in the outer world to convey how small and powerless they are in that space.
In terms of gameplay, Maquette doesn’t believe in hand-holding. Aside from brief blurbs on how to pick up, extend and rotate objects, there is no tutorial for the game. However, this doesn’t distract from gameplay, as discovering how to change object sizes and use that function is always engaging. Though there are no hints, players can feel assured they are traversing in the correct direction when narrative text appears. Additionally, players who are well and truly stuck as to what to do next should look to the objects at their disposal as the item required to complete the puzzle will emit a beam of light.
Maquette demands a creative mind to solve its puzzles, as objects are frequently used for reasons other than the obvious. For example, a key can be used as a bridge or ramp instead of unlocking a door. Puzzles in the game become more complex as the narrative progresses and no puzzle can be solved the same way twice. Creativity of thought does not extend to multiple solutions, as each puzzle has one specific answer.
It’s paramount to remember the game is designed to be recursive, constantly folding back in on itself. A good portion of gameplay is spent traversing between worlds, shifting items in the mini-world to gain access to spaces in the outer. Though at times this feels rote and repetitive, the game compensates by constantly shifting the landscape, providing new ways to explore and engage with the environment amidst the back and forth.
Players who appreciate thinking outside the box — or in this case, thinking outside the dome — will enjoy the uniquely crafted challenges Maquette provides. Beyond that, the story is worth investing the time it takes to play through the game. It’s a touching, relatable experience, inspiring reflection on real-life relationships.
Maquette launches on March 2 on PlayStation consoles and PC for $19.99.
This game was reviewed on a PS4.
Photo courtesy of Annapurna Interactive