‘Maskmaker’ review: A shining example of what VR can be

It is dangerous to make faces when you do not yet know your own

Maskmaker, developed by InnerspaceVR, is a beautiful puzzle game that exploits VR to its fullest potential. With a mastery of interaction, location, light, and sound, it is truly an experience to enrapture you.

What starts as a stroll through a painterly street ends in a puppet show murder through a foggy window. The door then creaks open, inviting you to step in. The abandoned mask maker’s shop is a tableau of some terrifying act from the past with a shattered mirror, toppled objects, and masks watching from every wall.

An omnipresent narrator sets the background. A young boy with nothing from nowhere enters the shop and tries to steal a mask. The mask maker catches him and takes him in as an apprentice. All the while, I stand in the centre of the play, as beings made of shadow move around me, dancing to the narrator’s tune.

It’s a powerful start, and already a mystery is born; how does the shop go from a master and his apprentice to ruined and empty? Take a guess.

I am now given my first puzzle, and while it is not complicated, it is an incredibly positive sign. Interacting with objects is precise, easy, and requires no thought about buttons, gestures, or tracking. Grabbing a dial and turning it works exactly as you would expect, and this easy interaction is present in every moment of the game. Grabbing objects is as simple as pointing at them and pulling the trigger. They then fly to your hand in an even simpler rendition of Half-Life: Alyx’s gravity gloves.

Maskmaker. Credit: InnerspaceVR

Before long, I am carving a mask out of a wooden block as masks hung in the rafters guide me. It’s so easy that I believe their shock when I carve a flawless form for my first mask.

I place the mask form in its place, and magically a wooden base has appeared for me to begin my work. A paint mixing station lets me create a bath to colour the mask, and as soon as it matches the blueprint in front of me, its eyes begin to glow.

Well, it would be rude not to put it on.

As soon as the mask reaches my face, I open my eyes in a beachside cabin, looking out over distant icebergs and in the corner of my view is a mirror, showing the mask looking back at me from an unfamiliar body.

This is where the game’s core loop kicks in. You explore the area guided by the voice of someone claiming to be king of the land. As you explore, you will find other wooden beings stood in place, as though dormant, and each of them is wearing a progressively more elaborate mask. To unlock the blueprint for their mask, you must summon your spyglass and centre their mask in your sights. This spyglass can take some effort to use, and keeping a mask centred at long distances is sometimes a little tricky.

Maskmaker. Credit: InnerspaceVR

You can take off your mask at any time to instantly return to the workshop. Here you can create masks using decorations that you find in the mask realm. Each mask you locate gives you a new blueprint with new decorations to obtain.

The game features six worlds, seven if you include the real(?) world that contains the workshop. There is a beach-filled island zone, a fungus-infested swamp, and a freezing mountain village, with three more unlocking after the midpoint. Each is rendered in a beautiful painterly style that often gives you chances to stop and see it all sprawled out before you.

Each of these zones contains puzzles in locating decorations, finding mask-wearing puppets, and opening pathways to progress. There is a windmill to repair, a basin to flood, and even a few times where you must hand objects to yourself by swapping between masks.

You can travel through each of these zones at your own pace but will often find something you need from a different zone to progress. As you clear each zone and reach the tower, you are treated to another slice of theatre as the story of the mask maker and his apprentice begins to unfold.

Maskmaker. Credit: InnerspaceVR

For the first half of the game, mask-making takes a back seat to the exploration and discovery, with each item causing a brief return to the workshop to slap a few pieces on and getting going again. However, after the mid-point, you gain access to painting and each mask takes more care and consideration to construct. The mask creation system is forgiving, with few snap points and large paint zones. Every creation comes from a blueprint, so it is more paint by numbers than complete freedom.

The game’s story is generally unsurprising, but the “how” is more interesting than the “what”. And while its story is interesting enough to be enjoyable, it’s the presentation that is truly king. Story moments are given through mo-capped shadows moving around the shop or rituals performed by mask wearers in the towers. Moments of importance are punctuated by spotlights on you and your immediate surroundings as the world around you fades to darkness. It is also put together seamlessly, with intelligent placement to ensure that you are always facing whatever is most relevant.

Maskmaker. Credit: InnerspaceVR

As this is a VR exclusive title, it is important to discuss the locomotion and comfort options available. The menus are pixel-precise so poking through settings is easy. There are few controls in the game, and all of them can be switched between toggles and holds depending on your preference and controllers. Smooth locomotion and teleport movement are both always present with different buttons. A generous vignetting is also on by default which can be adjusted or disabled completely.

Maskmaker is available for PSVR and PC, although you’ll need a VR headset. This review is of the PC version of the game. 

The Verdict

Mask maker is a true demonstration of how games can do VR with expert implementation. Every interaction the game provides is built to make the most of VR’s specific advantages while showcasing beautiful environments with a melancholy feeling permeating the quiet world around you. If you have a VR headset connected to Steam, then it is absolutely worth experiencing, even if only to count how many times you say “Woah”.

Pros

  • Beautiful environments
  • Perfect use of VR interactivity
  • Storytelling that feels like you’ve stepped onto a stage mid-play

Cons

  • The spyglass is a little fiddly.
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