Remember falling in love? This game wants you to.
Maquette is a living diorama of the relationship of Michael and Kenzie. This debut game by developer Graceful Decay is a promising first foray into the gaming industry and is another example of the faith that publisher Annapurna Interactive puts into independent studios paying off.
This inventive puzzle game not only excels in its unique puzzles, but also in an emotional and realistic story that promises to be one to remember.
Story: Painstakingly Sculpted
At the core of Maquette is a story about quantifying love. Graceful Decay aims to transport the player into this whirlwind romance and hopes to stir player emotion along the way.
Truthfully, whilst playing I found myself reminiscing about previous relationships. The power of Maquette is that it draws out your memories and aligns them with Michael or Kenzie’s. Player and protagonist become intertwined.
Maquette is a 4-8 hour puzzle game that is best played in a couple of sittings. The narrative supports the game length, working hand in hand to achieve a fine balance between thought-provoking gameplay and emotional set-pieces. The strength of Maquette’s narrative is in being experienced. The story is a thoughtful exploration of love and all of its blemishes.
The narrative and world of Maquette are built to make you fall in love with the game within the first few hours, and that is when this game is at its best. As the player learns who Michael and Kenzie are, it is difficult to not become invested in their relationship, the depth and power of the story-telling leads to an emotional conclusion that feels earned.
What begins as a simple love story, slowly evolves into a powerful message about living in the past. I was floored at how neatly woven the narrative and gameplay were, one could not be half as effective without the other.
The narrative boasts stellar voice-acting from real-life couple Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel. These high-budget actors may appear surprising to find in an indie game such as this, but the decision pays off.
Voice acting is crucial with this type of story-driven game and the duo bring Michael and Kenzie to life with an emotional resonance that lasts long after the credits have rolled.
Gameplay: Size Matters
As a puzzle game, it excels at utilising its core mechanic, which is based around using a model of the map to resize objects. This charming concept at first may appear simple, but the majority of the puzzles are clever and thought-out, with the exception of a few movement based puzzles that felt random and clunky.
For example, the player finds a ticket stub for entry to the fairground but it is far too large. The player must resize the ticket. This simple mechanic adds a sense of wonder to the vibrant world, every action the player takes effects the physics of the map.
These changes range from sound design to colour, or entire sections of the map. Maquette acts as a representation of a persons memories and as such, not everything happens in order.
Truly the player, rather than utilising a puzzle box, is inside of the puzzle box itself.
The game has a wonderful way of snowballing its puzzles. The player is able to make large amounts of progress quickly, before becoming stumped for a longer period. Whilst at times this can be frustrating, the solution often warrants the pace change.
However, this frustration became more common during the second half of this game. After Chapter 4, the puzzles change drastically and these endgame puzzles lose part of the magic that make the beginning of the game so memorable. At times feeling like they are artificially extending the length of the game.
This backfired for me, as I felt eager to reach the conclusion of the story; however the final puzzles felt like an annoying roadblock rather than a part of the narrative.
Graphics and Audio: Emotions Colourised and Vocalised
The art style of Maquette is simply stunning, inviting the player into this wondrous world. The use of colour to bring character and showcase emotion is especially impressive, it compliments the ongoing narrative perfectly.
The art style is best described as fairytale, each level could be taken out of a Disney film. Brimming with life, the art style oozes personality.
Having reviewed the game on the Playstation 5, graphically the art style lends itself to the rise in fidelity impressively. Maquette is one of the best-looking games I have played in years. The focus on bright colours and vibrant atmosphere makes this game stand out in an oversaturated market, from the minute the game begins, it beckons you in to stay awhile.
The sound design in Maquette is simple but effective. The sound of the player’s footsteps showcase the simple beauty of this game. However, the real power of Maquette‘s audio choices is in its use of licensed music. Sparingly, the game uses music at a number of poignant moments to really hit home.
Graceful Decay have confirmed that all of the licensed music found within the game is by San Francisco Bay Area musicians, the area that the couple from the game live in, which is a lovely touch.
“Tidal Wave” by Meredith Edgar is the standout piece. When this song first played I had to pause for a while, to appreciate the moment.
Maquette is full of these moments and in these moments the game is untouchable.
Maquette was reviewed on Playstation 5.