Finish Line Games
To call Maize a silly game is somewhat of an understatement. The entire game feels like one of the weirder Monty Python sketches, where nothing really makes sense but somehow that makes the whole thing even funnier. Not funny in the classic meaning of the word mind you, as the humor rarely rises above funny accents and slapstick, and I never found myself actually laughing out loud. Instead, I simply sat there with a stupid smile on my face, enjoying the absurdity of it all, and how, well, silly everything was. But what else can you expect from a game about sentient corn?
Yes, Maize is a game about corn, as you probably guessed from its title. Not just any corn, but walking, talking and doing something that might resemble thinking, though I can assure you that’s not the case. When you first arrive to the unassuming farmhouse in the middle of a giant cornfield, which is in turn in the middle of nowhere, you don’t suspect much. You’re not really sure what you’re doing there and what awaits you, but you don’t really expect stumbling upon a secret underground government facility filled with corn and an angry Russian stuffed bear. Unless of course you’ve seen any of the game’s promotional material, in which case you are perfectly aware of all that.
Maize does play with the familiar idea of a government facility hidden beneath a farm in the middle of nowhere, but it does so in a way that’s refreshingly different. First of all, there are no zombies or other mutants roaming the halls looking for brains, or any other of the many cliches that usually accompany such a setting. The sentient corn angle is completely new, which is a huge point in the game’s favor. Best of all – it works; it makes a twisted kind of sense in the game’s world, especially once you start exploring the place a bit and learn what was going on there before you arrived (that is probably the last time I’ll use the word “sense” in this review). However, besides having an abandoned government overrun with corn and a Russian teddy bear, there isn’t much of a story to follow. What drives Maize is mostly its humor.
Maize is a funny game. Sometimes it’s even “Haha” funny, but for the most part you’ll find yourself staring at the screen in bewildered amusement trying to understand what it is you just went through. For me, the highlight of the game were the sticky notes left throughout the facility, detailing the correspondence between the two head scientists, and chronicling the facility’s slow but inevitable collapse. These notes, and the description of the many items you pick up along the way, are the game’s way of delivering what little story it was. It’s not always as funny as it should be, but it’s enough to keep you going till the end.
Unfortunately, this is the only thing that will keep you going. You certainly won’t play Maize for its puzzles, as these are just way too easy. You never have too many items in your inventory, and it’s painfully obvious where you need to use them. There are outlines of the items you need to use in the places you need to use them, so the only real challenge remaining is finding them in the first place. This usually involves combing your immediate vicinity for everything you can click on, and eventually picking all the items you need to progress further into the facility. Sure, most of the solutions you come up with are quite funny, but require very little effort or thought on your part.
The game’s tendency to lead you by the nose through the puzzles carries over to the exploration. Don’t let the name fool you – you won’t get lost while playing Maize. The game literally blocks off sections of the world you don’t need to visit at the moment, and it’s not subtle about it either. Walls of bright red boxes appear almost out of thin air to block a path that was open just a few minutes ago, signaling that you don’t need to go there right now. There is some sort of in-game explanation as to why this happens, but it’s not very clear or satisfactory. Maize funnels you down a very linear path pretty much from the get-go, which serves to completely annihilate any lingering challenge and reduce your overall time with the game – for better or worse.
Maize uses the Unreal Engine 4 to do the visual heavy lifting, but unfortunately it isn’t enough. Maize has some very nice lighting effects and solid character models, but almost everything else feels unpolished. For example, as you move closer towards a texture, you can actually see it shifting and changing in quality to appear more detailed, only to revert back to being all jagged and blurry when you start to look away. I can’t be too mad about it since Maize is an indie title after all, but everything feels like it could have used some more work. The voice acting, on the other hand, is pretty great, even if it mostly consists of silly Russian and British accents that help delivering the equally silly jokes.
The thing is, I enjoyed playing Maize. Despite its weak story and almost non-existent gameplay, the game has a weird charm to it. Walking through the government facility, listening to Vlady, the Russian stuffed teddy bear, call everything stupid, and to the villain rant obsessively about his grand schemes made me smile quite a lot. However, the absurd sense of humor might not resonate with everyone, so if you don’t find words like “wacky”, “silly” or “what in the blazes” appealing, than this game is definitely not for you. If you do – I’d say go for it, as things don’t get cornier than this.
– Cordially, Guy