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Something was wrong with Maquette’s idyllic landscape. The leaves have swapped their pastel reds and purples for softer tones. The trees were monstrous, their limbs twisted and full of thorns. Even the houses, once pristine and full of promise, were falling apart, as if someone had long ceased to care for them.
This was just one of the many moments in Maquette that shows the interconnection between her diorama-like world and her story. Released now on PlayStation 5 (the version I tested), PlayStation 4, and PC, Maquette is an inventive puzzle game that follows the relationship of Kenzie and Michael, a couple who live in San Francisco.
You never see the characters on the screen. Instead, you just hear their voices – Jurassic World Star Bryce Dallas Howard (Kenzie) and her real-life husband Seth Gabel (Michael) are terrific in their roles – perform in cutscenes filled with cute 2D sketches. The story is relatively simple: a boy meets a girl, they move in together, and everything looks good… until it doesn’t.
As their relationship transforms, the world around you transforms, bringing with it new places to explore and obstacles to overcome. Basically, Maquette is a game about the inevitability of change and an independent developer Graceful rot plays with this idea through the concept of recursive worlds.
Now you think recursively
One of the most fascinating things about Maquette is that you don’t move in linear space. You start out on a cross-shaped platform with a giant red dome at its center, and inside is a miniature version of your cross-shaped world. Here’s the twist: they’re actually the same world. If you venture outside of your full-sized platform, you’ll only find a larger version of the same buildings and trees.
In theory, these nested worlds extend endlessly, but Maquette fortunately limits how far you can go either way. And what happens in one platform is reflected in the other. If you place an object like a box or a staircase in a corner of your world and go to the corresponding spot in the replica, you will see that the object is also there (albeit at a much smaller size. ) and you can pick it up.
It also works the other way around. If you take a full-sized object and place it in the thumbnail, a giant version of that object crashes into your world. I have no idea how Graceful Decay achieved this, but it was like magic every time I shrunk or enlarged something this way. I never got tired of it.
You have to repeat this process over and over again to solve many Model Riddles. The solutions start out pretty easy, like using a golden key to unlock a door, then later using a giant version of the same key as a bridge to head to the next area. But the most difficult puzzles incorporate multiple elements and multiple ways to transform those elements.
Maquette often made me feel like my brain was breaking in half trying to come up with an answer – but when I did, it was amazing. I have had times when I was sure I had exhausted all possible solutions. But eventually I realized that I was just looking at the thumbnail from the wrong angle, or that I wasn’t creative enough with the objects.
And for those times when I was really stuck, the PS5 activity cards came in handy: The developer included almost all of the puzzle solutions in the console’s built-in guides feature. But I tried not to rely on them too much.
Give meaning to the past
Your reward for overcoming these puzzles is the next snippet of Michael and Kenzie’s story, usually in the form of a conversation they once had. At first, they just explore the city while getting to know each other. Everything in Maquette’s world is bright and cheerful at this point, reflecting the thrill of the characters’ new relationship and how they can’t seem to stop spending time with each other.
In a pleasant moment at first, you find yourself in a beautiful rooftop garden where Michael and Kenzie had one of their dates (a reference to San Francisco’s rooftop public spaces). Even if you only get fragments of their story, they come across as a nice couple. And with just their voices, the way you experience their memories is intimate, as if you were listening to them.
So when I stumbled upon a scene where they were arguing and yelling at each other, I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be there. This tension is also spreading around the world, especially in the later chapters of history. As Michael and Kenzie’s relationship becomes more complicated, the world becomes barren and hostile. In the end, it’s almost unrecognizable.
Maquette does not have a happy story. But I wouldn’t say it’s sad either. As much as I wanted the couple to stay together, their story was a touching reminder that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. You can do whatever you think is “right” in a relationship, and it still won’t work for a bunch of different reasons.
A new classic
On paper, it doesn’t seem like the recursive mechanics pair well with such a relevant love affair. But Maquette ties them together in such a way that one element wouldn’t work without the other. The puzzles and the items used to solve them are thematically related to what’s going on with Michael and Kenzie. Sometimes you have to think about what they said or wrote to find the solution.
It’s not always a perfect combination. A few of these latter puzzles seem unnecessarily complicated, requiring you to place objects at pixel-perfect angles to trigger the next area. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of the game. Like Portal before it, Maquette is redefining what puzzle games are capable of, and I don’t think I’ll be forgetting these characters anytime soon.
Maquette was released on March 2 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC. The publisher has provided a PS5 code for this review.
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