Just one look at last year’s mind-bending reveal trailer for Maquette and I was enthralled. Its recursive twist on a first-person puzzler is immediately exciting – and that’s saying something for a genre that’s seen portal guns, non-euclidian mazes, forced perspective wizardry, and plenty of other oddball ideas. But while Maquette has some undeniably clever tricks up its sleeve and is downright stunning to look at throughout, this brief story doesn’t ever really manage to surpass that initial sense of wonder.
Maquette follows a person revisiting their memories of a past relationship, although it does so in fantastical, metaphorical environments through text written on the walls and the occasional cutesy conversation voiced by actual Hollywood couple Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel. All the while you’ll progress by solving mostly unrelated puzzles using Maquette’s big hook: a recursive world wrapped within infinite identical versions of itself.
Gorgeous Gameplay Screenshots From Maquette
In the center of each chapter’s contained puzzle area is a little model (a maquette, if you will) of the terrain around you. Drop an item – like a key or a bridge – into the model and a to-scale version will appear in the same spot behind you, only much larger – alternatively, pick something small out of the model and you’ll suddenly have a tiny version to use in your regular-sized world. It’s a phenomenally clever concept, and one that’s an absolute joy to mess around with when you’re first getting your bearings.
Part of that immediate appeal is thanks to how jaw-droppingly gorgeous Maquette can be. Its use of vibrant colors and ornate, warped architecture is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in any puzzle game. Those impressive aesthetics also extend into its otherworldly particle effects as objects phase in or out of place, as well as its top-notch audio design. Dropping a key into the model will make tiny jingling sounds as it bounces around, and that’s paired with deep, metallic clanks behind you from its larger counterpart. Walking through an abstract representation of a memory will be accompanied by the realistic bustle and sound effects of the actual place.
But while its environments are stunning to both look at and listen to, I also found them oddly inert. There’s essentially nothing to interact with beyond the extremely limited set of items meant for solving puzzles, and it never felt rewarding to go off the beaten path or look around at stuff unrelated to the singular task at hand. The most glaring example of this is when you visit the memory of a county fair, which is full of booths with ring toss games, target shooting, and even a giant ferris wheel… all of which are immovable props you’re just meant to smile at and walk past. That’s not the biggest letdown ever, but it does undercut the life that’s been imbued into each area and makes the act of solving puzzles and interacting with this world feel almost entirely disjointed from the story being told.
Thankfully the puzzles themselves can be very entertaining to solve, if not as exciting as I’d hoped Maquette’s recursive concept could be. There’s lots of tricky little solutions to find that I won’t spoil here, but I especially loved moments like the first time you leave your own “model” world and end up in the giant version of the one outside it (though Maquette could seriously use a sprint button to reduce the slow movement of those sections). Later chapters also bend the formula in interesting ways that, while generally slightly less successful than the central model idea, do offer some neat twists on its own setup.
That said, compared to first-person puzzlers like Antichamber, Manifold Garden, and Portal, or even less deliberately mind-bending options like The Talos Principle or The Witness, Maquette’s recursive roadblocks are actually fairly simple to get through. The best puzzle games don’t just have clever puzzles, they make you feel clever yourself for solving them. Maquette only manages the first part of that in its brief, two- to three-hour playtime, with most of its solutions never really evolving past placing an object or two in the right spot and then walking to the next task (albeit with some novel, size-altering steps in between). That meant figuring them out usually made me go “oh” rather than “a-ha!” – a subtle distinction, but an important one when it comes to the mental reward of solving them.
This may partly be because, unlike nearly all of the games I just listed, Maquette puts a larger focus on its story, at times turning more into a “walking simulator”-style adventure game than a brain-twisting puzzler. And while it tells that story well enough through attractive animations and succinct text, it’s a fairly basic look at the evolution of a relationship that feels largely unrelated to the magical world it’s being told within, held at arm’s length from most of what I was doing mechanically. It’s charming at times, sure, but not enough of a draw on its own – especially when you could just play Florence, also published by Annapurna Interactive, which is pretty much just a better version of the same story.