It’s always fun to think about the genesis of the story and mechanics of a game. Quite often they’re rooted in reality in some way; the stories typically being allegories of the developer’s own experiences and the mechanics being born out of a core idea that’s then stretched, bent and twisted to create a fully fledged game. Maquette then was an interesting one to ponder, feeling like it was equal parts reality and fantasy mixed in together. As it turns out the game mechanics came first and the romance story was born out a necessity to make the game compelling. In that aspect the developers succeeded although Maquette does unfortunately suffer from the usual pitfall of the game mechanics sometimes getting in the way of telling the story.
Michael was going through some old things when he came across it: their sketchbook. It had been such a long time since he’d even thought about them being together but going through the book’s pages he remembers what they had. As you explore the pages through the fantastical realisation of the sketches that he and Kenzie drew during their time together you get to understand what drew them to each other, how they bonded as a couple and finally what ultimately led to relationship ending. It’s a kind of sweet sorrow for having lost something that was once so great but knowing that your life was richer for having experienced it.
Yet again we find ourselves playing another low poly/low texture game from an indie dev company. Maquette’s visual style is one of contrasts, often starting off with drab and muted visuals only to have the world explode into colour in concert to the game’s narrative moments. The environments are well realised, brimming with detail at all levels. As you’d expect from a game styled like this performance is good, with no frame rate issues or areas needing further optimisation. Whilst the voice acting is spot on the foley and backing soundtrack is a bit of a mixed bag. Footsteps don’t track well with how fast your character moves on screen and other bits of interactive sound seem a little off. The backing tracks, when they’re playing, are very clearly from a varied number of artists and don’t seem to have an overall theme driving them like most game soundtracks. Some of them work well, others just seem decidedly out of place. This probably wouldn’t stand out as much if it wasn’t for the amazing voice acting which sails above all the other elements to make the dialogue (and therefore the narrative itself) feel so much more real. So, all in all, Maquette is competently crafted, if a little left of center in some places.
Maquette’s unique feature is the recursive world that it exists in. Each level has a model in the center of it which represents the world you’re in. This gives rise to some interesting interactions, like dropping a normal sized item into the model will make a larger version of it appear in your world and vice versa. You can also interact with the model to interact with your world, leading to some rather interesting and unique puzzle challenges that have a very Superliminal feel to them. Other than that there’s not much more to speak of since exploration isn’t particularly rewarding and unless you’re trying to speedrun the levels to get the achievements there’s not much more you need to know.
I’d say that the puzzles are about 80% direct and understandable with the remaining 20% being either quite hard or simply outright impossible if you happen to miss a critical aspect of them. For instance I was completely unaware that I could take a key back out of a lock after I had used it and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to use the random block they put in (obviously just to demonstrate the whole big/small mechanic) to solve a particular problem. Of course consulting a walkthrough got me past it but I was a little annoyed that something as critical as that wasn’t at least hinted to in some fashion. There’s a couple other instances of things like this happening but thankfully they aren’t the norm.
The mixed levels of craftsmanship extends to the game itself as well with some interactions either feeling janky or causing some troublesome issues for solving the puzzle in the intended way. One of the later puzzles has you placing blocks on a grid and it’s absolutely horrendous trying to get things to work properly with it. It would have been far better to fix the camera perspective and have you manipulate it that way rather than a kind of halfway solution which was a nightmare to interact with. Similarly, given the nature of main recursion mechanic, it’s quite possible to get items stuck in walls or other places if you’re not careful. Restarting will fix the issue of course, but it still speaks to a level of unfinishedness in some of the game’s core mechanics.
Whilst the story is predictable (largely because it’s told in retrospect) I was absolutely captivated by the performances of the voice actors. It was clear that they had great chemistry (which, upon looking into them, is kind of a given) and the direction they received helped to make the interactions feel very real. I was actually a little miffed that they didn’t go for full voice acting (while still keeping the on screen writing) for all the lines as I think it would’ve added a little bit more depth to the game.
Maquette is a great first release by Graceful Decay, one very fitting with Annapurna Interactive’s library of similarly story focused titles. Whilst its construction might be a little hit and miss in places the sum of the individual parts is certainly greater than the whole. I’m sure the coming months will see a bunch of patches and improvements that’ll address the major concerns, making it a game that will be much more seamless. I’m very interested to see how this developer goes in the future as this is a strong debut title that shows a lot of potential for growth.
Maquette is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3.1 hours play time and 54% of the achievements unlocked.