top of page

Review: Maquette is a great concept buried under poor design and empty story

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

great initial concept buried under poor design and an empty story.


Are you familiar with the publisher Annapurna Interactive? If not, you definitely should be. They’ve published some of the best video game experiences I’ve ever had. The Pathless, Outer Wilds, Journey, and What Remains of Edith Finch just to name a few phenomenal games.


Unfortunately, you can’t win ‘em all. Despite its strong gameplay concept, Maquette, a first-person puzzle game developed by Graceful Decay, is a staggeringly awful addition to Annapurna Interactive’s otherwise exemplary portfolio.


This idea had loads of potential, but Maquette never does anything with it.

Let’s talk a bit about that strong gameplay concept. Maquette sees you walking around a few buildings and areas that are connected to a large dome. Underneath this dome, there is a miniature replica, or maquette, of the world you’re exploring. In order to solve the game’s puzzles, you can pick up an object in the world you walk through and place it in the maquette to have an enormous version of that object appear in your walkable world. Likewise, you can place the object out in the main world to pick up an even smaller version from the maquette.


This is a marvelous and entirely original idea. I’m sure it was a total pain to try and figure out how to code it all, and the devs should be commended for the concept. Yet, it’s an idea that’s tragically unexplored. This idea had loads of potential, but Maquette never does anything with it beyond boringly simple ideas. Put a bridge over a gap to make a bridge. Put stairs next to something to make a ramp. Put a key in a door. Whoa, leave some ideas for the rest of the industry!

Picking up and resizing an object is a real cool five seconds, sure, but the game never hits that initial “wow” moment of discovery ever again. Resizing objects is neat for the first two times you do it, but it never evolves in any meaningful way. I’m not sure how it could either, considering the game only has a few puzzles. This is a shockingly short and content sparse title, and the fact that some levels consist of only one, two, or even zero puzzles makes its price tag feel entirely unearned.


What few puzzles do exist, have solutions that are either insultingly simple or so bizarrely convoluted and specific that they would only make sense to the people that created them.

What few puzzles do exist, have solutions that are either insultingly simple or so bizarrely convoluted and specific that they would only make sense to the people that created them. I won’t spoil puzzle solutions in this review in case you have a desire to play the game yourself and have run out of ideas for how to be miserable, but I will say that, on more than one occasion, it felt like Maquette was deliberately wasting my time. Having to walk back to the maquette to place and replace objects again and again and again is an absolute slog that’s made even worse when you encounter painfully awful jumping sections.


More challenging than finding the answer to any of the game’s puzzles, however, is fighting the completely awful controls. Picking an object up can either stow the object on the bottom of your screen leaving you free to move at your normal pace, or you can pick it up and have it floating in front of you, ready for placement, while walking like your legs have suddenly been made eighty pounds heavier.

Fighting the camera was absolute hell when dealing with smaller objects, and it was hell squared when dealing with two objects that were somewhat near one another.

In theory, you’re able to swap between these two different states of object holding with the press of a button, but theories are made to be broken. Most of the time the game refused to let me hold anything in the bottom of the screen position, and I’d be stuck walking in ultra slow-mo. This constant issue made me think the act of actually playing the game would be a lot more enjoyable if, I don’t know, there weren’t two separate ways you could hold things? Have an object be placed into “placement mode” and that’s it! No need to add a ball and chain to each foot when we do it either. Half-Life had players picking things up more than eighteen years ago, and that wasn’t even its core gameplay mechanic!


It’s whenever I was struggling to simply move an object that the game’s true antagonist would appear: the camera. For reasons that are still baffling modern scientists, Maquette has an insanely aggressive auto-aiming camera. I’d be walking along until my camera sensed an interactable object within my peripheral vision and my view was jerked to look at the object. Yes, Maquette, I see that giant, golden key. Now kindly remove my bridle, thank you.


Before you ask, no, there was no way to turn this off in the game’s settings. Fighting the camera was absolute hell when dealing with smaller objects, and it was hell squared when dealing with two objects that were somewhat near one another. Not only would the camera have its own ideas for what object I ought to pick up, but a few times my wrestling with the dastardly foe would cause objects to clip through the floor and remain irretrievable. Happy now, camera? Now neither of us can play.

Of course, reloading the game fixed the floor clipping issue but completely resetting a puzzle because the game broke isn’t exactly stimulating. Then again, I’d rather have had to reload the game hundreds of times than endure its blisteringly boring story. Somehow, Bryce Dallas Howard and her husband Seth Gabel were cast as the sole characters in Maquette, and somehow the game’s creators thought this would elevate the entirely meaningless narrative.


Said “story” is told via two methods: white text that appears on walls as you walk through the game (similar to What Remains of Edith Finch does but much less impactful, interesting, well-implemented, and not tied to the story in a meaningfully contextual way), and pieces of audio where Howard and Gabel say a whole lot of nothing.


Their characters, Kenzie and Michael respectively, are two young people who meet, fall in love, and fall out of love. So we’re told, because like a school without a science teacher these characters have absolutely no chemistry. Of course they’d have to be characters for that to happen. The issue is that they have nothing interesting to say! No aspirations, motives, personality, or any reason to care about them.


Add the fact that the story itself has no inciting incident, conflict, or resolution, and you’re left with two people just spewing words at each other. They blandly and awkwardly flirt for twenty minutes, mope around for ten, scream at each other for five, and that’s it. In an interview with Howard and the game’s director, they discussed how the recording for the game took place in a single day and large portions of the dialogue were rewritten in an improvisational way. Oh, believe me. It shows.


One of the worst parts about the already vacuous tale is that Maquette really thinks it’s diving into some deep stuff and taking it all way too seriously. Here’s an example: Michael and Kenzie have a sketchbook they both draw in. At one point, we have a line that says, “We sketched things and places. Both real and imagined.” So, you drew? Yeah, when you mentioned you had a sketchbook I assumed that you drew things. Did you also sketch any persons? Then you’d have all the nouns!


The verdict in this Maquette review is that the game isn’t worth playing. It’s a shame that it isn’t better, because the initial concept of resizing objects with the maquette is truly unique. However, it’s not explored nearly enough, the game’s puzzles aren’t enjoyable to solve, and the game’s story is an enormous load of nothing. The biggest puzzle in Maquette is figuring out why anyone would want to play it.


Maquette Review in a nutshell


Pros:


● Nicely done visuals

● Interesting gameplay concept



Cons:


● Woefully lacking in content

● Puzzles aren’t fun to engage with

● Puzzles never evolve

● Controls are poorly done

● Auto-locking camera is a nightmare

● Objects can clip through the floor

● Story is mindless and uninteresting



Score: 2/10


Reviewer played on Xbox Series X.


Maquette is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC.

120 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page