Maquette review – exhilarating worlds within worlds | Games

Maquette opens with a conversation between two strangers in a San Francisco coffee shop, a flirty interaction sparked over a sketchbook....


Maquette opens with a conversation between two strangers in a San Francisco coffee shop, a flirty interaction sparked over a sketchbook. Romance soon follows and the game – the latest from the tasteful video game arm of the Hollywood studio Annapurna – charts the blossoming of a young relationship. It’s a straightforward premise for a game that is anything but.

The simplest way to understand the highly experimental design that sits at Maquette’s core is to imagine, on your kitchen table, a scale replica of the street outside. Move an object on the model and, simultaneously, the full-size object moves, with great, clunking heft, outside your door. You might, for example, place a tiny model staircase beside a neighbour’s high fence on the model. Step outside and you are able to physically clamber on to the staircase and hop into the neighbour’s garden. The game is, then, a series of nested dioramas: move an object in one dimension and it moves in the others, at scales both great and small. It’s a simple interaction that leads to mystifying complexity – much in the same way a relationship develops from a first kiss.

Maquette’s visual world is expressionistic rather than realistic. This is a realm of fairytale castles, ornate bridges, gleaming keys and mystical orbs. The boy-meets-girl story plays out exclusively in audio snippets and pieces of text plastered on to the environment. In the early chapters your time is mostly spent figuring out how to unlock doors and enter inaccessible places, by shunting pieces of furniture around and resizing keys between dioramas. It is exhilaratingly novel game design, increasingly rare in a medium defined by iteration and genre. Even so, at times the puzzles are bewilderingly arcane, even discounting the fact that the player is learning the rules as they go.

In its juxtaposition of abstract puzzles with domestic-scale storytelling, Maquette is more familiar, following the tradition of indie games that link high-concept puzzle-solving with romantic introspection. Like the relationship it maps, the game is at its most elegant and pleasing in the early stages, when its challenges are clearly stated and simply solved. Even so, the creative possibilities of this Russian doll world seem to extend beyond this brief, delightful exploration.

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