Maskmaker | Review

Maskmaker | Review

My relationship with virtual reality has never been the most constant. Initially, when the first viewers were presented, I was fascinated by them like a moth in front of a lamp and, although the prices were initially prohibitive, I began to follow this new market segment more and more assiduously to the point that, when I found the famous " an offer you can't refuse", I decided to buy a PSVR to understand if, really, I was facing the embryonic stages of the future of gaming.

Obviously, the reactions were the same as most of the current users of virtual reality : initial astonishment and consequent tedium when one realizes the fact that most of the products on the market are limited to being "pompous Tech Demos" capable of astonishing buyers but totally insufficient on the purely playful side.

Conscious of the initial limits of virtual reality, I didn't lose heart and, in one way or another, I always managed to get my hands on the various viewers that overlooked me rcato noting that, although on the hardware side the technology made giant strides to make the use of VR titles more and more comfortable, the games that really managed to enhance that investment could be counted on the fingers of two hands.

Obviously I absolutely do not want to say that anyone who has found the new reference platform in virtual reality is crazy but, subjectively, there are very few experiences that have remained "within" me to the point of convincing me that VR can quickly become the new point reference for gaming.

Among those games which, however, convinced me of the potential of this new technology, there is A Fisherman's Tale, a very simple puzzle game in its mechanics which was also the debut title for the InnerspaceVR team. It goes without saying that as soon as I had the opportunity to get my hands on their second project, Maskmaker, I didn't hesitate for a moment to find a Meta Quest 2 to find out how the development team had decided to evolve the excellent formula used for the their first production.

To my enormous surprise, however, I found myself faced with a project that was light years away from all my expectations. Maskmaker, in fact, is a product very similar to A Fisherman's Tale, which instead of following the dangerous path of evolution, opts to take a more comfortable path, exploiting the "know-how" gained with the previous production to offer a title that poses both as an excellent entry ticket to virtual reality and as an enjoyable experience for every type of player.

The story of the Maskmaker

Maskmaker, narratively speaking, does not differ much, in terms of atmospheres and world building, from the previous A Fisherman's Tale. Also in this case the events are set in a fantasy world and the story has the contours of a fairy tale. The Maskmaker that gives the game its name is a craftsman capable of making peculiar masks capable of teleporting the wearer to a fantastic realm. The story of the protagonist who will play, will begin in a night like any other, when approaching the door of the shop, he witnesses an altercation between the elderly craftsman and his young apprentice. An event that might seem insignificant but that will start a story that I would be sorry to spoil you with unpleasant anticipations.

What I can tell you, however, is that the story, in its immense simplicity, is coherent from the beginning in the end, returning those "bedtime story" sensations that manage to make the adventure pleasant and rewarding, even for those who have been eating "bread and FPS" for several decades, obviously provided you don't expect a bizarre and full of hits writing unexpected scene. In Maskmaker, everything simply goes as it should, without big surprises or incredible twists.

For the entire duration of the adventure, the events will be narrated by an off-screen narrator, a choice undoubtedly devoted to the economy (and which refers to what we saw with A Fisherman's Tale) but which, unlike other productions with a decidedly higher budget, never annoys, also by virtue of the ability of the InnerspaceVR theme to best dose these purely narrative moments, inserting them wisely within the play structure. In a nutshell, I have rarely found myself standing still listening to long dialogues without being able, or having to, do anything in the meantime.

Obviously, if I wanted to analyze this aspect with a more critical eye, I could easily tell you that Maskmaker clearly shows his "mid-budget" nature through these tricks but, similarly to what was achieved with the previous A Fisherman's Tale, I can only commend the InnerspaceVR team for managing to never make it obvious to the player's eyes.

Another aspect of the narrative sector of Maskmaker that definitely fascinated me is the whole subtext based on the concept of the mask. Precisely the ability to insert, in such a sweetened context, a set of messages based on the importance of not letting yourself be possessed by the mask you wear, manages to restore that minimum narrative depth capable of making the narrative sector of Maskmaker interesting also for an older audience.

Between enchantment and craftsmanship

Maskmaker divides the game action into two large sections: the one based on the exploration of the enchanted realm, divided in turn into three areas in turn divided into two different areas, and the one set in the Maskmaker's laboratory, which will have the task of serving as the main HUB of the adventure.

The concept behind exploration is as simple as it is ingenious. Scattered throughout the realm are puppets, inanimate, wearing masks of different designs. To be able to visit a specific area, it will be enough to build the mask corresponding to the puppets that populate it to possess their lifeless body and finally be able to wander around the various biomes. It goes without saying that the construction of the different masks sanctions the progression within the game.

Each area in Maskmaker, in fact, has different game mechanics, almost always based on finding certain resources needed to build the next mask. Switching from one puppet to another, increasingly rapidly as the adventure progresses, will prove essential to reach the tower that presides over the area, which very simply represents the finish line at the end of the level.

In such a summary way, the gameplay of Maskmaker could easily be misunderstood, and you might think that it is excessively repetitive in its dynamics, but it is the extraordinary ability of InnerspaceVR in playing with the level design that manages to make each area always different from the previous one, making the methodical nature of the actions that will have to be carried out totally in the background.

Where the first game areas turn out to be very linear, allowing you to fully understand all aspects of the gameplay, as soon as the plot starts to mesh, following the first important twist, the game world changes with it , presenting levels with more convoluted floor plans, with more courageously hidden secrets and some sections that will take well more than a handful of minutes to fully understand.

To be completely honest with you, Maskmaker has an exquisitely scholastic structure, where in the first half of the game he does his utmost to immerse the player in his world, to make him understand the rules of the universe that surrounds him, to make him passionate about the story he wants to tell and then leave him alone, accompanied exclusively by the notions learned up to that moment, immersed in a game world of which he realizes that he has simply scratched the surface up to that moment.

Also in terms of longevity Maskmaker behaves like a good student, limiting himself to six hours in which he manages to tell the player everything he has to say, without ever exceeding with dead times and, above all, without ever risking to be tedious or redundant in the proposed solutions.

What's behind the mask

I can't deny it. Technically speaking Maskmaker turns out to be decidedly average, without particular technical flashes that will make him talk about in the years to come. The polygonal models are animated in a very simple way, have few details and on more than one occasion have shown blurry outlines, offering an unpleasant overview that clashes with the excellent artistic characterization with which InnerspaceVR has adorned his handiwork.

The open areas are not well cared for and at times they seemed desolate to me due to the paucity of elements on the screen present in certain glimpses. A detail that will undoubtedly not annoy a less attentive eye but which is difficult for me to ignore, especially if I think back to the attention to detail placed in the creation of the Maskmaker's laboratory and in the excellent use of colors, capable of making every landscape present in the game… even the emptiest one.

As far as the controls are concerned, however, Maskmaker proves to be perfect in every respect, offering the player a set of choices that will delight those suffering from "motion sickness". The movement system, in fact, presents the possibility both of walking freely within the play areas, and of teleporting from one point to another of the play areas without having to "virtually" travel them, thus reducing to a minimum the generate motion sickness in the players.

The aspect that surprised me is that this double control system does not need to be selected in advance but is made available in real time, through the distribution of the two control modes in the analog sticks: the right for the teleport and the left for free movement.

Before leaving you with the inevitable verdict, it seems only right to point out that, unfortunately, Maskmaker is not localized in Italian but in English texts are easy to understand even for those who have a basic knowledge of the Albion language .

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