Maize Review

Maize is a game about intelligent – in relative terms – corn. You’re introduced to the world with absolutely no fanfare or contextual information, and must traverse through a cornfield until you reach a farmhouse. With only minimal instructions, you are free to explore. There are notes scattered around that provide context to the world of Maize, but progression requires solving puzzles. Thematically, it’s a simple yet strong start to the game but the tedium of both the humor and core gameplay sets in rather quickly.

Many puzzle games require leaps in logic to justify why a given solution actually works; however, they also seek some thought process on the player's part. Unfortunately,  Maize keeps the former but abandons the latter.  Every item has a description that can be viewed at any time, and many of these blatantly give away their use. For example, a missing fuse can be replaced with a rusty nail to restore power to a house. Who would think to do this? Simple, those who read the description of the rusty nail that told you that it will work. Maize gives away its own puzzles, and doesn’t even attempt to justify why solutions actually work. It’s bizarre to see this kind of self-awareness that gives up all pretenses on one of the first puzzles. Too bad it doesn’t get much better over the course of the 4-5 hour journey. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t acknowledge the handful of clever and fun puzzles, like drawing a face on a ball to bypass a facial recognition scanner; however, the fact is that these amusing examples are few and far between.

3065025-4.jpg

Even the method of traveling from one puzzle to the next is similarly sterile. Cardboard boxes block your path until you collect enough items or solve specific puzzles. The game openly declares that paths open up for no discernible reasons. Maize doesn’t use puzzles to encourage critical, creative or even bizarre thinking. Instead, these mechanics - including an oddly placed dancing segment – exist so that Maize can technically be a game. I’m not convinced this was even designed to be a game in the first place. It seems the driving force behind Maize was to have an excuse to write Monty Python-esque dialogue. Maize offers nothing as a game that it wouldn’t as a movie or book.

With all that being said, I’m thankful that Maize has a relatively good level design. While pathways are blocked and open as the plot permits, the world is interconnected. The final chapter takes place in an area found early on in the game that at the time had no purpose.  Being able to emerge from an underground facility next to an area you passed several hours earlier is a nice touch. While it’s non-Euclidean in design, it’s still believable due to the sense of verticality in the level structure. For a game that starts off in a cornfield, I was impressed by the variety in the environments.

With the silly tone of talking corn in mind, Maize is a funny game – or at least it’s supposed to be. While I didn’t find myself exactly frustrated by its jokes, they always seemed off. Many times I thought the writers had quality lines somewhere in the dialogue, but the wording, timing or delivery just wasn’t right. Perhaps part of the problem is that Maize is a little too self-aware. Every line of the dialogue or item description seems to start from a position of “how can we make this funny?” instead of letting the humor flow organically from its premise. Maize tries to make absolutely everything funny; you can’t pick up a rock without an attempt at a joke. As a result of this obsessive humor, Maize undercuts a lot of its own jokes. Even the notes designed to flesh out the world fall prey to this issue. I laughed once near the end, but all of the misses permeate my memory of Maize. Humor is subjective, but hitting people over the head with constant jokes is rarely a winning strategy.

3065028-7.jpg

The direct antagonist, who seems to be ripped straight out of Ratchet and Clank, is unfortunately weak, and only participates in a single puzzle throughout the game. His presence is rarely impactful, and due to the lack of any confrontational gameplay, he’s relegated almost exclusively to cutscenes. The writers seem to know that he offers little because they find extremely cheap ways to make him retreat – that is, if he shows up at all.

There’s also a stereotypical Russian bear named Vlady. He speaks with a thick accent, swears in Russian, questions the quality of American products, and generally acts as the straight man to all the goofiness. Despite the obvious joke that he brings to the table, he actually offers a sense of endearment to an otherwise dull story by a virtue of being a consistent companion. Surprisingly, Maize provides some decent setup and a chance to do something emotional with Vlady. Unsurprisingly this opportunity too is squandered with cheap jokes.

Maize-PC.jpg

Aside from the main characters, there are several generic talking corn stalks that are tasked with being lazy and stupid. They kick off the start of the game and play minor roles here and there, but their purpose is clearly to be funny. The goofy conversations originate primarily with them, but again, they miss more than they hit. Your entire journey is just a soulless excuse to turn the page in a big book of jokes. Doubling down on gags can work, but only if they’re funny – a caveat that isn’t fulfilled here.

If it sounds like I’m harping too much on the story structure and characters in a game about talking corn, it’s because I am. The issue is that there’s little substance to talk about as far as Maize’s gameplay is concerned. Games can offer both intellectual and mechanical input from the player, but Maize opts for neither. It’s a game all about the humor, so if you’re not laughing, you’re getting nothing out of this.

Maize is a premise without a core. It’s corn without the cob. There’s no foundation in the gameplay for its various ideas – both good and bad – to stick to, and it leads to the whole experience feeling hollow. This could be forgiven if Maize was funny, or if the narrative was humorous but heartfelt. Unfortunately, jokes are the only component here, overemphasized over anything else, leaving the rest bare. This is just a comedy script devoid of any subtlety that has been reluctantly stapled onto a game.

ds-stars_15.png