Maquette is a new first-person puzzle game from Grateful Decay and published by Annapurna Interactive, which puts you in a world where you can manipulate the environment around you while an emotive conversation narrates the action. This is a surreal, often dream-like game that blends together puzzles and narrative in an emotional experience.
You start in Maquette in a vibrant world that feels very similar to something from Alice in Wonderland. The world is mysterious, the colours are bright and vibrant and you can affect the environment in interesting ways by picking up and touching a small version of the world you are exploring at the same time. The first time you pick up the big red block and drop it down, only to turn around and see a huge red block in your world drop out of the sky.
The story is about a meeting between two artists in San Francisco and the story is delivered through animated sequences with the two characters giving a voice over. The two voice over artists for the main characters are real-life husband and wife, and you can really feel the chemistry in-game. We start when the characters first meet in a coffee shop, where she spills her coffee on a man’s sketchbook. They realise they both have a love for drawing and the conversation starts with him showing her his journal.
The gameplay in Maquette is from a first-person view navigating a 3D world and trying to solving puzzles. The environments are bright, vibrant and interesting and the puzzles aren’t too tricky and often involve manipulating a smaller version of the world you are walking around in. It’s an interesting interacting – you can pick up something in the big world and place it in a new location, and that’s reflected in the smaller world. The same for the small world to big, and this is the way you can navigate around the environment. For example, early on in the game, you need to cross a gap – but you can’t jump across. There’s a tiny bridge found in the small display representation of the world and you can move this to the gap, and then in the big world cross over the bridge safely.
As you progress through the game the puzzles iterate on the fairly simple concept. For example, you start in the first world by interacting with a diorama that manipulates the world you are standing in. Later in the game, you wonder if you are standing in a diorama itself, and perhaps someone is interacting with the world you are standing in. It’s all very trippy and fever dream-esque.
Maquette is an emotional journey as well as a first-person puzzle game. This is what you would expect from an Annapurna Interactive game and they set a high bar for quality. This is a story of a relationship – the happy beginnings, the normalisation and then things start to get a little shakey and finally arguments leading to the end. This is reflected in Maquette with the happy, fantastical beginnings literally implemented in the world you stand in, and the world shifts and evolves throughout to reflect the emotional state of the lover-narrators.
The two main characters Kenzie and Michael meet, move in together and start their own personal story. It’s a normal coming together of two people and a very realistic portrayal of a budding relationship in the real-world. It’s all very normal, which is both good and bad. It’s a reflection of the game as a whole, it’s fine, nothing spectacular happens and things move along at a reasonable pace. We don’t get to see Kenzie and Michael in the game, they are only represented through the voice work. As well as cut scenes we also get the narrative text written in the game world on the walls, floors and on objects giving you a little bit more context.
There are cutscenes, but they are few and far between. We don’t know if we’re playing as Kenzie or Michael in the game and it would have been nice to get more story because what we see is really good. The puzzles in the game are fine, reasonably engaging but I find myself drawn into the story much more than the puzzles which is a shame because the ratio of puzzles to the narrative is very weighted to puzzles. The concept appears to be quite popular at the moment too with another title superliminal exploring a similar concept.
The game was released via PS Plus on PlayStation and it’s a good game to get free. I enjoyed my time with Maquette, but I did find it didn’t really hold my attention. It’s an absolutely fine game, and I believe it’s the first game from Grateful Decay. The graphics are good, the narrative is the best elements of the game and the audio works great with the visuals. I didn’t find myself invested as much as I wanted to be. Thinking of other recent Annapurna Interactive games like If Found… for example, I found that much more engaging and it could hold my attention.
If you like puzzle games and you’re a fan of Annapurna Interactive games I definitely think it’s worth picking up, especially if you have access to PlayStation Plus. It’s going to be available during March, and it’s a neat little game to try out. It’s not on Xbox Game Pass at the moment, but this is the perfect type of game that would appear on that service. If you don’t have a PlayStation then this is also available on PC too.
Developer: Grateful Decay
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platforms: PC, PlayStation (reviewed on PlayStation 5)
Release date: 2nd March 2021