Developer: Finish Line Games
Maize is one of those games that instantly caught my attention for the fact that it seemed like something legitimately different (name me one game that starred sentient cornstalks) as well as a sense of humor that is so rare to find in a video game. I’ve spent roughly half a dozen hours exploring the game, and it seems that at this point, I have a pretty good handle on what to expect from its full release on December 1st.
Maize is also a rarity in the sense that I had no idea what the game even played like before I got behind the controls, and frankly most of the world doesn’t at this point. Maize is a First-Person Adventure built in a similar manner to others in the genre like Firewatch and The Stanley Parable, but with an added focus on item collection with some light puzzle solving.
Then there’s the humor. It’s a good thing that it’s not constantly in your face, as you actually spend most of your time alone until you construct Vladdy, the angry talking Russian teddy bear. But even after doing so, the dialogue is here and there. What I will say is that the humor is not for everyone; if you like stuff like Pinky and the Brain or Dexter’s Laboratory with a twist of Monty Python, then Maize’s humor is for you.
That said, here’s what you can expect from Maize.
Maize’s item collection can feel very random at first, but if you can overcome the wackiness, there is a logical path among the madness.
Many of the things you will pick up, particularly at the outset of the game, will make little to no sense to you, at least until you manage to get on the game’s unique mental wavelength. It takes a certain out of the box kind of thinking at times to make your way through Maize. For example, near the beginning of the game, you happen upon a fuse box that requires you to replace one of its fuses. So naturally, I thought that I had to look for a fuse (in most games, this is the case). Not this time. It turns out that you have to pull out a nail stuck to a wall and use it as a fuse-substitute. Not the safest thing to do (which the game snarkily reminds you of), but it gets the job done.
A lot of the item usage is substantially dependent on shape recognition. You will find several instances where an object can be placed on a table to be smashed open, so you can deduce that you need A) the object in question and B) something to smash it with. You will come to be familiar with these logical patterns as you encounter them through the game, but none of it is particularly difficult even the first time.
Maize is all about exploration. Fortunately, its world is worth seeing the sights.
Maize’s game loop of finding items and using them to unlock new pathways would be useless if traversing the environment weren’t a joy to do. Fortunately, Maize has very strong art direction that gives the game a look that really feels like it’s all its own. The maze of tall stalks of corn that reveal only points of importance in the distance overhead is easily my favorite area of the game thus far.
It’s one of those simple level design tricks, where the developer shows you a location that you either need to get to or will see eventually without actually throwing it right in front of your face. Then once you get there, you get the “aha! I recognize this area” moment. I love it.
Maize’s central humor relies on recurring themes, and it can wear on you over longer playthroughs.
The thing about being funny is that if you tell the same joke over and over again, eventually it stops being funny (most of the time). This is Maize’s problem, at least during sittings of two or more hours. For example, the game features a backstory of the two scientists who created the sentient corn, told entirely through passive aggressive post-it notes strewn about on the walls of the secret underground facility.
To be fair, it is legitimately funny at first, but once you see that there isn’t any real progression in the dialog behind the events of the story, then the jokes can become quite stale. The joke boils down to one being a bumbling idiot who spends obscene amounts money on himself (namely statues of himself), while the other responds with messages that are more or less different ways of saying “you’re stupid, I hate you.”
Perhaps this wouldn’t be as much of a problem if Vladdy, the angry talking Russian teddy bear weren’t telling very similar jokes. Vladdy’s central theme is that he points you in a particular direction, and gets into the small spaces that you can’t all while complaining and telling you that you’re stupid.
The problem with this is that the second scientist, Ted, basically fills the same niche in the dialog. So with two characters hinging on the “you’re stupid” angle for their likeability, it ends up bringing them both down.
The verdict so far:
Maize is just under a month from releasing in full, but so far everything is looking promising for the game. It’s probably best if you play this one in shorter bursts if you are the type that wears down on humor, but as a first person adventure game, it looks like you will be getting your money’s worth. I’ve clocked in over six hours, and I still haven’t come to the end of the game, so at the very least you will be getting more play time that most games in the genre.