Looking at the PlayStation 5 with different eyes, we’re focusing on two wonderfully artistic pieces of interactive entertainment today as we explore Maquette and The Pathless, both of which are also available on the PS4 but really shine on Sony’s new flagship console.
Most PS5 owners probably already own Maquette, because it was part of March 2021’s lineup of games that PlayStation Plus owners receive for free. Unlike most games in that category though, this isn’t a title that came out one or two years ago but actually a brand new game from Annapurna Interactive – a publisher that we’re getting to know as having an eye for gameplay merged with a strong artistic vision.
As a result they have a lineup of games that’s distinct and often highly original, and Maquette – by Graceful Decay – is no exception. It’s a puzzle game that plays out from a first person perspective, and one that uses scale in creative ways that remind us a bit of the excellent VR-exclusive A Fisherman’s Tale. As with that game, Maquette’s game world consists of worlds within worlds – imagine yourself standing in a room with a dollhouse in the middle and realizing that you’re inside that dollhouse at the same time, and you’re halfway there.
Scale is central to the experience, and through playing with this world-within-a-world concept you can enlarge or shrink items to help you progress. If something’s too large, place it where you can visit it in the smaller version of the world, and you’ll then have a version that’s just the right size as you take it back with you. It’s somewhat familiar to VR gamers, but an extremely refreshing experience for everyone else that works just as well on the flat screen.
On top of the puzzle gameplay, Maquette also features a narrative story delivered through the talents of Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel. Considering the high profile names attached I was expecting the writing to not be as understated and ultimately underwhelming as it is, but perhaps it’s a conscious choice to make sure the emphasis stays on the world and the gameplay – both of which are very well realized.
Maquette features a beautiful art style and wonderful world building designs, backed up by great music and super smooth gameplay. The tactile response of the DualShock also helps you to experience the world and interacting with its objects that scale up and down in various ways, making this an absolutely wonderful freebie to PlayStation Plus owners – for anyone else it’s worth the price of admission as well.
The Pathless is actually also from Annapurna Interactive, was developed by Giant Squid (of ABZŪ fame) and came out a few months ago. We didn’t cover it at the time, but to this date it’s one of the most remarkable audiovisual experiences you can pick up for the PlayStation 5 and we didn’t want to have it pass by our videogame coverage unnoticed.
Strictly speaking this is an open world adventure, but it’s a far cry from the likes of Assassin’s Creed or GTA – emphasizing puzzles, exploration and wonder rather than objectives and combat. The environment you explore is gorgeous, though it’s under threat from an entity called the Godslayer that aims to spread darkness – and you’re there to stop it.
As with ABZŪ, the movement and gameplay mechanics aren’t complex or even convoluted – something that I have issues with in plenty of other open world titles that are too involved for their own good. Instead, The Pathless lets you immerse yourself in the game world, and in great part this immersion is aided by some excellent use of the DualSense controls and the bow and arrow mechanics of your protagonist.
Rather than just use them for combat, the bow and arrow can also be used to zipline your way across the scene. You also have a friendly giant eagle who can lift you up into the air to help you cover greater distances, which helps because discovery is central to the experience. You don’t just go from checkpoint to checkpoint and there isn’t even a game map to help you get around – which can be a minor annoyance if you stop playing the game for a while and come back after a week or two only to realize you don’t know your way around anymore.
The Pathless isn’t a linear experience, and you can even choose to tackle its puzzles in your own preferred order – the story will progress no matter which one you complete, and there’s a good variety to choose from. Some will require you to open doors or use tools, while others will require you to work in tandem with your Eagle friend.
While all of the puzzles are well designed both creatively and in terms of difficulty, combat in The Pathless is more hit and miss. Traversal is great, but combat regularly relies on stealth segments that don’t always seem to work well in how you can be discovered when it doesn’t make sense that you would be. Combat sequences, especially with bosses, can also drag on for a bit, which made the moments where I could immerse myself in the game world and its puzzles again seem all the more enjoyable. The audiovisual style of The Pathless, combined with the tactile response of the DualSense, certainly make up for the game’s shortcomings in combat.