A Canvas Of Love And Loss

HIGH The unique storytelling is a prime example of videogames as an art form.

LOW Framerate issues become severe when entering new areas.

WTF The interpretation of what spiraling looks like after a breakup is chilling.

Videogames have the capacity to be a completely unique artform. The visual and auditory stimuli in combination with interactive play can create an engagement no other medium can replicate. Titles such as What Remains of Edith Finch and Celeste are masterclasses in cathartic narration, and Graceful Decay’s Maquette aims to follow in those titles’ footsteps. Though limited by some technical issues and a few frustrating puzzles, Maquette weaves a moving story in a way only videogames can accomplish.

Maquette opens with the meet-cute of main characters Kenzie and Michael, who bond over their shared love for drawing. Using a series of first-person perspective puzzles, the rise and fall of the lovers’ relationship is shown through Michael’s sketchbook. As the player advances through the story, a blend of text revealing Michael’s inner thoughts and voice acted conversations between the couple is revealed.

The depiction of Kenzie and Michael’s romance is just stunning. The early stages of Maquette are depicted in a whimsical, Disneyworld-like fashion — similar to the way many relationships feel at the outset. Strong voice acting performances from Seth Gabel and Bryce Dallas Howard perfectly encapsulate the spark of falling in love (and its eventual decay.)

In terms of gameplay, Maquette is puzzle-based. Though controls are limited to moving, jumping, and picking up items, challenges can grow quite complex due to a size manipulation mechanic. In most areas, there is a central dome containing a diorama of the level. Using miniature versions of the surrounding buildings, the player can look for solutions to puzzles, move large objects impeding their progress, and resize items.

The puzzle possibilities here are vast, and at times, difficult to wrap one’s head around. The chapters I enjoyed the most revolved around resizing structures to explore the level. On the other hand, while most puzzles here were enjoyable, a section hinging on using colored orbs to open different areas felt comparatively unintuitive, and was accompanied by an undesired level of backtracking. Because Maquette rarely gives the player hints as to what to do next, I was tempted to use a guide so I could finish the level and get back to the story.

A few chapters in, another mechanic is introduced that allows the player to become miniature and enter the domes, creating even more possibilities, such as squeezing through tight spots or making items even smaller. This opens a lot of mechanical options, but also coincides nicely with the progression of the lovers’ quarrel. Just as Michael is beginning to feel small in his relationship, he gains the ability to literally become small himself.

While Maquette feels like a fairytale at its outset, its atmosphere slowly transitions into a colder, grayer setting that mirrors Kenzie and Michael’s dwindling flame. Conversations between the two, especially as they begin to drift apart, feel truthful and relatable. Maquette cozied me into thinking it was creating a fairytale romance, but that only made this second half pack even more of an emotional punch.

Maquette’s presentation is as strong as the writing. The celshaded graphics are stunning, and I found myself stopping to enjoy the ambience of a blossoming garden or to marvel at the detail of a majestic castle. The soundtrack is equally robust – using a range of genres from folk to alternative, the tunes perfectly reflect the dynamic of Michael and Kenzie’s relationship from start to finish.

Unfortunately, Maquette suffers from severe framerate issues when entering a new area, or when text is appearing on screen. Though it was not enough to hinder my enjoyment, it did distract me from an otherwise-immersive experience.

For anyone who has ever fallen in love or suffered heartbreak, Maquette will resonate. Yes, some puzzles were weaker than others, but those issues felt secondary to the masterful tapestry being painted before my eyes. Maquette is a poignant and rewarding experience that reminded me of some of my happiest moments, it forced me to stare straight at sorrow, and simultaneously reassured me that it’s okay to feel that pain.

Rating: 8 out of 10

— Alex Prakken

Disclosures: This game was developed by Graceful Decay, published by Annapurna Interactive, and is available on PC, PS4, and PS5. Review copy obtained from publisher. The main story takes roughly 3 hours, and was completed. There is no multiplayer mode.

Parents: This game is rated E 10+ for Alcohol Reference and Lyrics.  The ESRB‘s official description reads as follows: This is a puzzle game in which players manipulate environments while following a modern-day love story. From a first-person perspective, players explore everyday problems in a relationship and use a variety of objects to reach new areas. Some of the conversations involving a couple mention alcohol (e.g., “Oh, good you got beer”; “…in a public park drinking wine”; “…I was too drunk at that New Year’s party.”). Accompanying song lyrics contain allusions and references to controlled substances and/or drugs (e.g., “There’s no remedy/But the drugs help till I’m ready”; “World war one brand smokes/lit with rolled matches…”; “We’ll drink until our brains black out”).

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Text is resizable, and subtitles can be turned on. Puzzles can be completed without sound and there are no audio cues needed to complete the game, making it fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: There is no control diagram. On PS4 the player moves with L, jumps with X, picks up/drops objects with square, and moves the camera with R. Controls are not remappable, but the X and Y axis of the camera can be inverted.

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