On one of those rare days where we both leave work on time, my other-half and I decided to pick something from our Steam backlogs to keep us entertained for a few spare hours recently. We had plenty to choose from and after considering several options, we finally settled on Maize: a first-person adventure about what happens when two scientists misinterpret a memo from the US Government.
It was a title I’d picked up during a sale at some point after hearing positive things about it from Will at geeksleeprinserepeat and watching one of his gameplay videos. However, it had sat untouched in the back of my library for a year waiting to be installed. Pete didn’t look overly keen when I told him the Steam page said it involved ‘sentient corn’ but he gave in after a promise of chocolate; so after a quick trip to the corner-shop, we settled down on the sofa.
It’s hard to explain what Maize is about for two reasons. Firstly, as is the case with many narrative-driven releases, it’s difficult to hint at several plot points without spoiling the whole thing; and secondly, it’s just so damn weird. The developers have left the game’s description deliberately vague and I can only guess they made this decision so as not to put anybody off. Trying to summarise the story here would make a lot of readers think it was something best left in that dark corner of my library.
But doing so would have meant I missed out on what was one of the most enjoyable – and certainly the strangest – titles I’ve played in 2018 so far. I’ve read a few reviews since finishing it and most of them aren’t completely favourable, mentioning mundane puzzles and a certain ‘annoying’ teddy-bear, but Maize turned out to be just what we needed that evening. Who knew that messing around with government conspiracies and sentient corn could be so much fun?
Finish Line Games’ project definitely won’t be for everyone and I’d advise you to stay away if you’re looking for something serious or challenging. For those who love mad adventures, point-and-clicks and casts of bizarre protagonists however, you might find something here that tickles your fancy. Just be prepared before going in: your character opening their eyes to see a corn-field at the beginning of the title is the end of anything remotely normal happening.
Maize is a release which manages to make fun of itself and the adventure genre as a whole (although I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure whether this was intentional). Rather than trying to avoid filling up your inventory with useless objects, it puts 75 items with pointless information into your ‘folio’; and instead of trying to disguise the fact you’re being steered down a path, it blocks off routes with bright orange filing boxes. Their existence is explained in one of the documents found lying around the farmhouse but it’s still totally outlandish!
Vladdy, a robotic bear you construct partway through your journey, is there to remind you how ridiculous this all is and insult you in his Russian accent. Not only does he bear a striking resemblance to an animatronic toy from our childhoods, in some ways he reminds me of Murray from the Monkey Island series: at first it seems as though he’s going to be enemy but then a beautiful love-hate relationship forms. Although many reviewers quickly grew tired of him hurling abuse at them, Vladdy won me over and I was sad to see him leave.
Speaking of Monkey Island, there are several puzzles within Maize which bear (no pun intended) a resemblance to the cutscene Governor’s Mansion where Guybrush goes up against the tremendous dangerous-looking yak (take a look at this video if you’re not sure what I’m talking about). Sending Vladdy into a vent to unlock a door for you results in loud crashes and bangs from behind the wall before he tumbles out and once again calls you a stupid idiot. Charming.
As mentioned above, the main criticism of this game seems to be the lack of challenge when it comes to those puzzles and granted, we didn’t come across anything which had us scratching our heads for too long. But that was exactly what we needed after being at work all day. It was good just to be swept along in the current of the story, to not have to think too hard about what was happening in front of us and just enjoy it for what it was: humorous and silly storytelling.
Later Levels (@LaterLevels) May 26, 2018
In fact, the title ends on a plot-twist so bizarre that it’s almost not a shock after everything else you’ve witnessed. And with a final battle which involves a sequence like a Dance Dance Revolution round to an upbeat track about top secret experiments, it’s such a fitting way to round off a game such as Maize. Partying with sentient corn and scarecrows in the middle of a field, dancing to an 80s-style song while trying to save their world – now that sounds just like my kind of shindig.
Sometimes a game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile. The smile on Pete’s face by the end of the game was proof that sometimes a bit of silliness (or ‘corniness’ if you will) can really hit the spot.