When I first saw the trailer for Maquette I knew I had to play this game. As a major puzzle nerd and Annapurna superfan, I had high expectations that this would no doubt be another beautifully designed, thought-provoking storyline that has become synonymous with its publisher. As one of March’s Playstation Plus games of the month, I was given the perfect opportunity to try it out. With big names like Bryce Dallas Howard involved I had no doubt that Annapurna would continue to tug at my heartstrings and I would continue to let them. By the end of my playthrough, I did feel the love that was put into this game, but not from the main characters, let’s get into it!
Maquette opens in a beautiful garden with warm music and lavender foliage as you begin to learn the story of how our main characters met. This is done through voice-over and glowing words that appear throughout the game to help guide you. Each chapter of the game is created to reflect the main characters’ sketchbook of their dreams together and to highlight important moments in their relationship. The levels present a heightened and fantastical version of the story being told and the player can change the world around them through a replica small-scale model (a maquette) in the center of the level. This offers a unique visual and auditory experience when an average-sized item like a key is dropped in the maquette and a giant key falls from the sky and lands next to you with a deafening clang. I found the sound design to be one of the most appealing and realistic aspects of the game. However, the upbeat indie rock that occasionally plays at the beginning of a new chapter felt incredibly out of place in the world and when the song ended, I was left with complete and jarring silence that felt awkward.
While Maquette presented many clever and visually stunning levels, they often did not work as they were intended. Many times throughout the game I found myself spending a lot of time on a puzzle that I had already solved but I could not get the game mechanics to work properly to complete it. This left me feeling frustrated and a little silly for trying every other method I could think of when I had already solved it in the very beginning. For example, one of the levels requires you to push an object through a grate to move on to the next area. When I tried to push the object through it would not work no matter how I angled it. After starting that level over multiple times, I, at this point quite exasperated, tried it again and it worked. This happened multiple times throughout the game and I began to realize that if a puzzle wasn’t easily solved, it was usually because a glitch was not allowing me to perform the actions needed. This took away some of the fun of solving each puzzle because, by the time I got it to work, I was quite frustrated and ready to move on and I didn’t appreciate the cleverness of the puzzle-like I normally would have. That being said, the continuous loop of maquettes inside of maquettes was constantly entertaining, and despite the bugs, I was still able to appreciate the attention paid to creating a level’s environment that is directly responsive to everything happening within the miniature model.
The story of Maquette is easy to follow but unfortunately, that is not conveyed through level design. At the beginning of the game, the levels are designed to help illustrate the main characters’ story, but as it continues, I noticed a lot of the scenery was unrelated to what is actually going on and felt like filler. This left me feeling detached from the narrator and unsure of where my attention was supposed to be as a player. While I loved the puzzle aspect, large parts of it felt irrelevant to the story and left me feeling annoyed whenever dialogue would interrupt what felt like a puzzle-driven game. The dialogue and cut scenes were not skippable, due to the bugs I would often have to start many levels over and there are only so many times you can listen to the same romantic dialogue before it starts to lose its meaning. Unfortunately, a lack of checkpoints in the chapters meant that whenever I encountered a glitch, I had to restart the entire chapter; dialogue, cutscenes, and all.
The unique recursive aspect of this game is charming and delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed the whimsical look of each level with brightly colored houses and old stone gardens making me feel like I was inside of a fairytale book. Small intimate scenes like a carnival with ambient noise of people talking and games dinging felt comforting and made me feel nostalgic for warm summer nights of eating fried foods and wasting too much money on a ring toss. Moments like that made me stop and simply enjoy the care that was put into the sound design of this game. The narration of the game is a bit vague and you somehow feel like you are getting both a shadow of the story but also being bombarded with too many cutscenes. The real-life couple who provided the voice-over work for this game seemed to lack chemistry and fell flat in convincing me to care about them at all. A lot of the narration was awkward and the “witty banter” between them felt forced.
The puzzles are what kept me coming back to this game, while not incredibly difficult to solve, some did take thinking outside the box. Occasionally the controls were a bit clunky and the object I was moving around would get stuck and I would be forced to restart the level. I ran into some glitches that made me fall through rocks that should have been able to jump on. These both hindered my gameplay quite a bit but I was always interested enough to move onto the next chapter. The quiet moments of the game were peaceful and relaxing but I never felt like I was working toward a particular goal so I often felt a lack of motivation to play the game for more than an hour at a time. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t consider this game replayable because the long unskippable cutscenes do not need to be experienced more than once and after you know how each puzzle works, the game loses its mystical appeal.
As a long-time fan of Annapurna Interactive, I could not wait to get my hands on their newest title Maquette. This game was promised to be a love story with engaging and creative puzzle game-play. The mechanics of Maquette are breathtakingly inventive and invoke a childlike like sense of wonder that had you feeling like a living Matryoshka doll. The story, despite having big names and real-life couple Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel as voice actors, fell disappointingly short of the real and relatable emotions that it was trying very hard to convey. Despite this, I would recommend playing this game all the way through at least one time to experience the love and care that the developers put into the sound design and architecture of each level.
Do Not Recommend
And that’s the Borderline Bottomline for Maquette
Review written by Shannon O'Donnell