Maize revolves around the outcome of a misinterpreted memo that was sent to two foolish scientists that are situated in an abandoned government facility. The misinterpretation sees the scientists creating sentient corn, and now, accompanied by a talking Russian teddy bear, you’re tasked with exploring the laboratory and the fields that surround the facility. Remember that Mel Gibson movie ‘Signs’ from a while back? Think that, but swap out the aliens for some creepy sentient corn and throw a generic layer of sci-fi into the mix, and that’s pretty much the setting of Maize. It’s silly, bizarre, often stupid, and at times surprisingly hilarious and innovative.
Much like any given point-and-click / first person puzzle game, the aim of the experience is to solve brain twisters as you make your way through. This is achieved via collecting items and putting them to use as and when you’re expected to. There’s not really a great sense of difficulty within, mostly due to the fact that your surroundings are far from vast and you can adopt the trial and error technique of stuffing your item in every object until you find the right solution. Interactive objects are all highlighted by an outline that makes itself apparent as you get close to whatever object is nearby, meaning you’ll spend less time wondering what you can engage with and instead dive straight to the meat of the matter.
That’s not to say that Maize come doesn’t come without a challenge, in fact there were several points throughout the game that I felt confused or stuck. Where do I put this? Where do I go? The clever implementation of making you hold items from early on in the game until the last moment does indeed push you into focusing harder with the tools that you have, and there are some ridiculous items that you’ll use to solve seemingly simplistic barriers, which does prove satisfying once overcome. It’s just a shame that these moments of innovation are not upheld from beginning to end. Maize can feel very (I hate saying this) ‘walking simulator’ at times, and it’s here where the charm and the alluring gameplay falls flat. The game is certainly at its best when you’ve got something to do, or when you don’t know what to do, but outside of that there’s very little to bond the mechanics with the overall package.
Vladdy the bear, or Ted-wannabe for lack of better words, will provide plenty of humour throughout the entirety of play. Although the humour can be pretty hit and miss I grew quite fond of Ted early in the game. It does become somewhat annoying when the same jokes are spat out, or the same punchline is used with a different phrasing, but on the whole I couldn’t knock the protagonists. The story and backstory is served to the player through a mixture of dialogue, observation and notes. I cant say that the story is all that interesting or even satisfying when the conclusion arrives, but it’s worth taking into account that Maize isn’t a game that takes itself seriously, so maybe that was a given.
Maize doesn’t quite know what it wants to be and that’s probably what hurts it the most. It’s part walking sim but without a decent degree of exploration due to previously trekked sections being blocked off, and part puzzler but without the intriguing design of (let’s say) King’s Quest. What’s more is that on the face of it all this seems like a genuinely unique experience that houses a fun concept, and while that may indeed be true during the initial phases of play, Maize outstays its welcome rather quickly. Canada based developer Finish Line Games have a solid and memorable formula here, but it’s just not put together as well as it could have been.
Visually there’s a lot of effort put forward in Maize, showcasing a good portion of well designed environments that truly bolsters the theme and setting of the game. Unfortunately however there’s also some minor frame-rate issues present, which is something that reminded me a lot of The Town of Light, being that the graphics are well set but are married to poor optimisation. Hopefully this is soon addressed in a post-launch patch because the visuals are one of the few reasons that this game stands out. There’s not a lot that can be said about the soundtrack either, despite one or two interesting moments within, the soundtrack is almost nonexistent.
Maize has all the markings of a solid puzzle game, but the lack of consistency and freedom is ultimately what pulls this experience down. Most of the puzzles can be nuked through trial and error, which shaves off much of the intended difficulty. The lack of exploration is another downside, and when you take into account that the game (or the setting and theme to be specific) is so well crafted, strikes me as an odd design choice. The story is well set if again not overly interesting, which is further bolstered by the hit and miss humour from the cast within. Unfortunately the frame-rate issues persist from start to finish, but are mercifully not too intrusive, often just jittering the screen for a moment or two at any given time. Maize is roughly a four hour long game that outstays its welcome towards the end, which is a shame because the concept is certainly enticing, it’s just let down by poor execution. It’s fair to say that Maize wants to sit somewhere between King’s Quest and What Remains of Edith Finch, but utterly fails to reach the same level of quality and delivery of either.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.