Maquette Review

I don’t really like puzzle games. I enjoy some of them when they give me genuinely clever puzzles or have some sort of “thing” that keeps me engaged. Like Slayaway Camp, which I enjoy because the puzzles are good and it’s a hilarious parody of 80s slasher movies. And of course the puzzle games like Portal which not only offer clever puzzles but an engaging narrative that keeps you playing. But too often I find puzzle games waste my time with puzzles designed solely to make the devs feel smart and then reward the player with nothing but the opportunity to feel dumb 100 more times before the game ends.

I’m happy to report that Maquette falls into the Portal category of puzzle games. The puzzles are clever and fun but the real thing that will keep you playing is the story.

Maquette, developed by Graceful Decay and published by Annapurna is about a guy named Michael who finds a sketchbook from an old relationship with a girl named Kenzie and starts to reminisce about it, from it’s beginning to it’s end. The story can sometimes be a little cheesy and clichéd in a rom-com kind of way. There’s the standard meet cute and the awkward, are we a couple faze. What keeps it engaging is the quality of dialogue and the performances. It also offers a nice counter to those rom-com stories we’re all sick of where they date, get angry and then get back together after someone runs through an airport. This isn’t about a relationship, it’s about the end of one and dealing with it.

The whole story is told with text on screen and through dialogue. You never actually see Michael or Kenzie, just hear their conversations with each other. Michael and Kenzie are voiced by real life Hollywood couple Seth Gabel and Bryce Dallas Howard. They both do a really good job of delivering performances that make them sound like a genuine couple that falls in love and then slowly out of it. With lesser performers the Michael and Kenzie could have come off as characters in a bad Nicholas Sparks movie. They have good chemistry which makes the relationship in the game seem less scripted and gives me hope they’ll be one of the few couples in Hollywood that don’t get divorced.

The actual gameplay involves you solving recursive puzzles. Each level drops you into a dome with a diorama in the middle. The diorama is a replica of the level you’re in. When you move an object in the diorama, it moves in the full size level. You also use this to change the size of objects to solve the puzzles. If you drop a regular size object into the diorama, it becomes a bigger object in the outside area, or an object in the normal sized level is tiny in the diorama. To solve puzzles and progress, you have to figure out which objects need to have their size shifted and where to position them.

The difficulty is well balanced. The puzzles start of relatively simple, like changing the size of a key in order to use it as a bridge, and become increasingly more complex as the game goes on. All the puzzles had the right balance of being tricky to figure out but not making me feel dumb for not getting it. There were no moments of hair pulling, wondering how I could possibly be able to put my pants on properly. Even once I solved the trickiest puzzles in the game, I felt fulfilled and not like an idiot who got lucky.

The visuals you’ll either appreciate or won’t. It’s not going for realism and in some parts looks incredibly pretty but it won’t be for everyone. The real star of the game is the soundtrack. Each level features a different licensed song that will be stuck in your head long after playing. They’re not just there to give you a new Spotify playlist either (although they will), they’re perfectly paired with the moments in the story they accompany. Each song is an anchor for a particular moment in the central relationship, as if they had their own playlist and Michael is recalling songs from it. Licensed songs in games don’t always work but here it’s extraordinarily well done.

It’s not the most incredible puzzle game and it’s not the most incredible narrative game but it’s a terrific mix of the two. Even if you’re not into puzzles, there’s a strong enough narrative to keep you engaged. It’s not a long game, you can most likely beat it in one sitting but there isn’t a moment wasted. It’s a game well worth experiencing and if nothing else, you’ll get an amazing new playlist out of it.

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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