A good puzzle involves a delicate balance. The perfect brain teaser should confuse players just long enough to feel smart once they hit a “Eureka” moment, but the solution shouldn’t be so blunt that players want to raise their hands in frustration. Maquette fails to find this balance. This beautiful indie game explores the heady concept of recursive worlds while telling a touching love story, but its puzzle design vacillates too far between excitement and boredom.
Maquette is a thoughtful meditation on worlds within worlds. Many of the early puzzles revolve around a maquette model that resembles your surroundings. When you edit objects in the model, your actions also affect your environment. When you insert a full-size key into the model, a giant-sized version will appear in the appropriate location in your environment. This mechanic allows you to create ramps or bridges with everyday items, or shrink larger items so they can slide through the cracks in a fence. I loved how Maquette challenged me to carefully explore my surroundings and think about how objects can be used in different ways.
During this trip you will be treated to a dark love story about a young couple’s struggles to understand and live with each other. This story is mostly told through voice-over (you never really get to see the characters), but they are well performed, and listening to this couple’s cute banter regularly brought a smile to my face. Given the heady nature of the gameplay, Maquette’s narrative is surprisingly down to earth, but the characters and their struggles were so reliable that I sympathized with their plight.
Unfortunately, the road to Maquette’s conclusion is bumpy. As much as I liked Maquette’s recursive world design, it has a few awkward moments for gamers. Just as the model in front of you is a facsimile of your surroundings, your surroundings are also a model of the larger biomes that extend to the horizon. Late in the game you start exploring these large rooms, which means you walk a lot over a variety of large, open areas. I liked the cool expanse of these rooms, but solving some of these puzzles takes trial and error, which means you will have to walk a lot. This gets boring quickly and I hated reaching my goal only to realize I had to adjust the model in the center of the world, which took a long walk back.
In addition to Maquette’s tedious navigation, a handful of puzzle solutions are so obscure that I had to search the area many times before accidentally stumbling into an interactive element. I actually solved a few puzzles in ways that I don’t think the designers intended, and achieving those solutions didn’t make me smart. It just felt like I was making my way forward. Once I even worked my way into a corner; When I had calculated the solution to the puzzle, it was clear that I could no longer achieve it. At this point I had to reset the chapter and lost about 30 minutes of progress.
When Maquette shoots at all of the cylinders, it’s a lovely journey through a series of ever larger environments, and Maquette’s love story is poignant and a little heartbreaking. Unfortunately, my interactions with the puzzles have also been heartbreaking. While Maquette has some missteps, I like to look back on my time with it. Much like a real romance, my affection for this game is complicated. – Ben Reeves