PS5 Games – The Finest Indie Game Debut In Years
Last month, Sony upped its PS Plus game once again by announcing that Final Fantasy VII Remake was the next incredible AAA game coming to its subscribers, following February’s offer of Control Ultimate Edition. However, the real diamond in the collection for March may well be Maquette: a short but sweet masterclass in storytelling ingenuity.
Maquette is the first title from San Francisco-based developer Graceful Decay, which received publisher backing from Annapurna Interactive–a company with a keen eye for indie winners. Landing on PS4, PS5 and Steam on March 2, Maquette is the latest in a long line of inventive puzzle games with a cleverly conceived but ultimately simple core mechanic, and proves the genre has so much more to give.
It’s rare for such a bold debut to make such an magnificent impression but, much like What Remains of Edith Finch before it, Maquette isn’t just enjoyable to play–it stays with you for a long time afterwards. Its combination of imagination, storytelling and design, along with its brilliant actors and musicians, gives so much more than its four-to-five-hour playthrough might suggest.
Maquette is a first-person puzzle game where the environment nests within itself, like Russian matryoshka dolls, and you start out as the middle doll in a set of three. All buildings and objects have tiny and huge counterparts in their own worlds; you have to use size and manipulate items to explore the world and unpack the story.
The game charts a tale of love between artists Kenzie (Bryce Dallas Howard of Jurassic World and Black Mirror fame) and Michael (Seth Gabel from Fringe), whose whirlwind romance starts in a coffee shop in San Francisco. All you see of them is their art, which they created together in a shared sketchbook, and this forms the basis of the entire adventure, literally shaping the world around you.
Immediately, the game’s San Franciscan roots become clear; the game’s garden prologue and Maquette’s iconic dome channels the city’s Palace of Fine Arts, while Kenzie and Michael’s more wistful sketches of Cinderella Castles and Italian beach houses are paired with Haight-Ashbury’s famed Victorian homes.
The story is meticulously paced with ever-appearing overlay text, which subtly encourages you to explore certain paths, or rewards you for finding your way. As you progress, Maquette seals off past sections to keep you on the straight and narrow, subtly turning the page on your behalf.
Its writing is intriguing and incredibly clever in how it never names which character you are in the relationship. At first, it’s easy to assume you’re Kenzie, but as it rolls on, you find yourself flitting between each one’s perspective, based on how you emotionally bond with the story and its evolving personalities; no pronouns are ever used to force you into a role.
This isn’t entirely surprising; Annapurna Interactive proudly explores personal and intimate issues such as gender, sexuality and identity through incredible games such as Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch, and last year’s superb If Found…. Once more, Maquette feels like the perfect fit for the publisher.
Sometimes, the story can grind to a halt, because success isn’t always so straightforward. Often, it’s a case of try, try, and try again–you might find yourself stuck, exhausting every possible possibility before you realize the most obvious solution was there all along. When you figure each puzzle out, the sense of satisfaction can be glorious.
You may often find that you don’t want to take a certain leap, whether it’s literal or metaphorical; getting stuck means reloading the entire chapter, which feel much longer than they actually can be; the game’s achievements highlight each stage can be completed in mere minutes.
I can only think of one crystal-based puzzle that defeated me, which I managed to get around with momentum and speed. There may be another two or three instances where I didn’t do things in the way Maquette intended, but that’s part of the fun, much in the same way Portal speedruns can make a mockery of the game’s meticulous plan. Still, if you give people the tools, they’ll use them in the way that suits them.
As with anything using mechanics as inventive as Maquette’s, there comes a moment during the second half of the game where you start to worry that it’s running out of ideas. Despite its amazing concept, last year’s Superliminal demonstrated its best concepts in the first half, meaning the remainder of the game slowly fizzled out.
Thankfully, Maquette doesn’t do this; even in its least challenging, story-heavy sections, it continues to throw smaller, but no less clever, mechanics your way before building back up to a strong, if not abrupt, finish. While the game doesn’t end as you might expect, it’s certainly not unsatisfying–aside from the fact you’ll always want more from a game as inventive as this.
When it’s all said and done, the one thing that will stay with you after finishing Maquette is its glorious audio. The headlines will be stolen its blockbuster two-hand cast, as Howard and Gabel–who are married in real life–unsurprisingly portray a genuinely believable fictional couple. Meanwhile, the game’s wider sound effects are excellent–nothing quite prepares you for that first time you drop a massive key at the wrong angle, as it jangles your very soul.
However, Maquette’s real trump card is its soundtrack, which showcases a diverse range of talented local artists. Every song frames each chapter, from those early moments of excitement and full-blown, unbridled happiness, through to despair and regret.
Songs like “Meridian” by Cannons and Clouds, or “Tidal Waves” by Meredith Edgar, in particular, are real high points. The work of audio director Cody Predum, who also adds plenty of his own original compositions to the mix, makes you feel like Maquette is designed around the songs, rather than the other way around.
Like Giant Sparrow and The Fullbright Company before it, Graceful Decay has more than earned its place on Annapurna’s roster of incredible developers with excellent debuts. Like those that came before it, Maquette definitely deserves to land itself a few award nominations, too. It may be months until we find out, but those fortunate to try Maquette certainly won’t forget about it when these decisions need to be made.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of Maquette in exchange for a fair and honest review. The PlayStation 5 version was played for review purposes.