Developer: Graceful Decay
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Genre: Puzzle Adventure
Themes of relationships are often explored in video games, where you start your journey at the first meeting and then watch the relationship grow. However, developer Graceful Decay takes us to the tail end of a years-long relationship in Maquette and allows us to see how it got to that point. Through a unique puzzle element using perspective, we get to explore this couple’s journey. As emotionally moved as I was by the narrative, I found some gameplay elements hindered real progress.
Maquette is all about the journey and not the destination. This is because you know where the story is leading, and you don’t want it to come. We are introduced to two individuals, Kenzie and Michael, as they meet in a coffee shop. This random encounter then grows into a real relationship that unfolds as you progress through the game. However, how that all happens is what the player is left to figure out. Knowing the beginning and end doesn’t remove you from the emotional beats the story conveys, and I was left feeling emotionally immersed in this journey.
As you explore the several stages, you are graced with colorful and charming environments that slowly begin to change before your eyes. The entire narrative experience hit a bit close to home for me as someone who has been in long relationships that slowly come to an end. The stories are different, but the themes of falling out of love with someone you care about will keep you engaged in this concise experience.
These narrative milestones aren’t reached without a bit of work from the player, though. We are led to believe that we are reading old sketch journals kept by the couple. Through these pages, explore their memories. Prospective plays an enormous role in the puzzle layout as you interact with an object’s size to get through areas.
Each stage typically has a set of four puzzles to solve. These usually require some sense of imagination to get through but revolve around changing the shape of an object or the shape of your character and finding a way to navigate. There are some clever designs here, but most of the time, it feels like the developer is just playing a trick on the player rather than forcing them to think creatively on how to progress.
It happens several times throughout the game, but the outcome is a ton of unnecessary back and forth. These moments can be exceptionally tedious without a run option as you try and figure out what to do. This is more apparent when your character becomes smaller, and your speed is significantly decreased.
The underlying issue with the gameplay is how you’re not rewarded with exploration, even if the stages can become larger. I would have enjoyed more interaction with the stages, such as playing some of the carnival games or even sitting at a bench and reliving a memory. You are left only looking for items that you can grow and shrink to progress, and nothing else around really matters.
This ends up hurting the more significant environments that the developer wants you to pay attention to. As a game, you aren’t being rewarded for closely looking at random set-pieces; you’re rewarded for solving puzzles. This ends up getting in the way of progress because they’ll randomly be a puzzle that requires you to be perceptive of your environment after an hour of the team ignoring this mechanic.
I found the graphics to be a perfect extension of the story being told. As we see the relationship progress, we get the sense the something isn’t right, and the world reflects that. I also liked the music, but its haphazard nature can be a little offputting. The songs were good, but they should have ended with a constant loop of one of the riffs instead of fading out to nothing.
Maquette is a beautiful game with a compelling narrative that is a perfect weekend experience. Across its four-hour runtime, I was able to feel emotionally invested in this relationship as I begged to see it through until the end. The puzzles hinder progression, but the lack of interaction with the environment limits any additional playthroughs or unique playing experiences.
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