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Maxwell Alexander explores a story of puzzles

Title: Maquette

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC

Release date: March 2, 2021

Rating: PEGI 3

Maquette is a beautiful, story-driven, puzzle game starring Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, Jurassic World) and Seth Gabel (American Horror Story, Fringe) as a cute couple whose relationship is presented to the audience in the form of a series of models.

In Maquette you are placed both inside and in front of the same model, to an infinite degree. Surrounding the central model dome are a number of objects and areas that also surround you. Your goal in the game is to manipulate objects in the maquette and change the mirrored environment around you. For example, a giant block impeding your path in the regular-size world would appear as a smaller cube inside the maquette. Lift the model cube out of the way and your path in the regular-size world is now open for you to explore.

This idea of environmental manipulation is expanded on further when you move items to and from the model itself. Move an object into the maquette from the regular-sized world and have it exponentially enlarged in the plain around you. Similarly, take something out of the maquette and place them in the regular world and they will appear smaller in the model and thus can be used as a smaller item too. This formula can be repeated multiple times until you can no longer pick an item because they are too small or too large.

It’s a really interesting concept and one that really makes you think about perspective and cause and effect, in a playful way.

There are seven chapters in Maquette, each with four separate, gated areas that you will have to unlock to progress. The game does a great job of keeping things fresh and changes up puzzle concepts pretty regularly. Sometime you will have more than one puzzle type per chapter. This poses one of my major conflicts with the game. Whilst I appreciated the amount of new puzzles I was getting, I couldn’t help but feel a little unsatisfied with the lack of depth after beating them. After figuring out the solution to a conundrum, you are immediately presented with a completely different problem to solve. This made some of the puzzles feel incredibly easy as you were only being presented with what felt like the introductory puzzle and the more obscure ones feel like obstacles rather than challenges.

I would have loved to be given the opportunity to test what I had learned with some of these puzzles a little more than what was allowed to me and thus some really interesting puzzle concepts were thrown away after no more than 30 seconds with them. With a playtime of rough four to six hours in length, the game was hardly going to outstay its welcome by giving us a little more from each puzzle concept. Most of what this game had to offer was so interesting and creative, I would have loved to stay a little longer and really tested what I had learned.

The short run time could be attributed to the story in the game. One that follows the memories of Michael (Seth Gabel) and his relationship with Kenzie (Bryce Dallas Howard). The narrative is one of romance and melancholy as we sift through key moments in the couple’s history. From the start of the game, when the two meet in a coffee shop, to them moving into their first house. Each milestone is beautifully represented in the level design. Some are more effective in conveying a visual storytelling experience than others, as the game often leans on a sketchbook that the two used to doodle in, as a crutch for some of the more lackluster design. Such as Chapter 3, where we are presented with a number of unusual house designs pulled from the sketchbook that serves little more than a vehicle for more puzzle types. A little disappointing then that they were happy to impede their own narrative pacing here for more puzzle types but not in others.

What really took me by surprise was how relatable the relationship between Michael and Kenzie felt. After the opening couple of chapters where the story seemed very by the numbers for a romantic tale, it slowly started taking a turn into a relationship of monotony. After buying their house together, Michael and Kenzie start to feel tensions in their relationship. Not in the way of anger or any real deceit that you would typically find a most mainstream media but in a sadder way, one of boredom and going through the motions. You can hear the love wash out of their relationship and this is shown again through some superb level design, where cracks start to appear in the maquette and colour slowly washes out from the world.

It’s here, in these moments, that I feel we could have maybe returned to some of the earlier puzzles and further emphasised the lack of variety in the relationship with some returning, harder puzzle types. But overall I feel the game does a terrific job of depicting a relationship in graceful decay.

As a whole, the game was a treat for the eyes and ears with a beautiful sandbox to explore and a terrific soundtrack that I will certainly be listening to on Spotify for the next few weeks. I wish the puzzles had given me the opportunity to test what I had learned but I certainly enjoyed the variety on offer here.

A word that seemed to be used a lot in the promo material for Marquette is recursive. The word in some regards sums up the game perfectly from a narrative and environmental perspective but not so much for the puzzles themselves.


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