Maize Review: Burn the Cornfield Down
Sometimes an absurd concept should just be left a concept.
Maize is the sort of game that (concept-wise) sounds like it’d be just crazy enough to make an interesting game. The problem lies in actually making that game happen, to which Maize stumbles so often that it falls into a nuclear reactor. Maize is developed and published by Finish Line Games, and it is a first-person adventure game with maze-like elements.
Maize, which is another word for corn, is a game with maze-like elements, as in a network of paths meant to be a puzzle that one has to find their way through.
That’s about the level of humor this game reaches. Let’s just say the player is in for a bumpy ride if they don’t have the same sense of humor the game does. It’s not meant to be serious in any way, yet it sometimes takes itself so seriously that it gives you borderline neck breaking mood whiplash. There will be more times where you ask yourself “What?” than any other game, and while I suppose that’s the point, I found myself asking that more often about the design choices that anything else.
Was it necessary to have this game resemble a slow, contemplative game like Dear Esther when it’s just a big comedy? Did we need to be constantly reminded of the feud going on between the two heads of the secret facility with their sticky notes? Was there a need to put a pile of orange boxes in front of areas you couldn’t go in yet and then when the game goes, “As a complete coincidence a new pathway has been opened up,” the boxes magically disappear? Couldn’t there have been a door that does that or another NPC character?
Choices like that make Maize seem like it's either trying too hard to make you laugh or else it’s just lazy. And speaking of lazy, the game just makes you feel like it with it's movement speed.
When moving about the world within the first ten minutes or so, the player will notice something very jarring about Maize: your movement is similar to moving through corn syrup. Even when you run, it’s almost like a thick, sticky veil has been put over you at all times. This applies doubly for the environments because oftentimes, you’ll pop into an environment that hasn’t even fully loaded yet and it will stutter your computer to a grinding halt while processing it. Even when you’re picking up items it does this, which is a good portion of the gameplay that doesn't involve walking around.
Oh, and don’t run anything else when playing Maize, even if you have an amazing computer. Why? Because there is a chance it will crash on a consistent basis. Or instead, sometimes the audio won’t synch up to the visuals, or the voiceover won’t match the lip movements of the characters, or the thing you picked up a few minutes ago decides to just now load its audio, causing the game to stutter. Essentially, you'll be slowed down to something slower than a crawl. None of this is enjoyable when you’re wandering about aimlessly in the corn maze, trying to make heads or tails of where you’re going while the game decides to slow you down even further by lagging behind you.
Then, of course, there are the cutscenes that put two widescreen bars on your screen and try to make the game feel more cinematic as the corn wobbles or the teddy bears hobble about and tell jokes to one another. That gives us an opportunity to listen to some well-done voice-acted lines, but the issue lies in the fact that no matter how good the voice acting is, it can’t fix the script.
It’s a shame because there were lines that got a chuckle out of me on occasion, but the majority of the script showed a sincere lack of effort on the writer's part. They clearly didn’t invest in a thesaurus because every single line that comes out of “Vladdy” the Teddy Bear’s mouth has the word stupid in it. For those who don’t know, there are quite a few ways you can call someone stupid; there are several ways to rewrite any piece of dialogue in order to avoid repeating a word too often. Unfortunately, they didn’t do that here, and about five minutes into Vladdy following you around you’ll want to tape his mouth shut.
Most of the game's dialogue is like this. There are several exceptions, but it’s not enough to salvage just how this script plays out in such an asinine manner. It is simultaneously incredibly simplistic and yet complex because the story is all about this secret underground lab that experimented on corn (...), with a multitude of objects to pick up throughout the game in order to find out just what’s going on.
It makes you feel as though you’re accomplishing something when you’re doing this and it’s the only part of the game that’s worth anything. These little objects give a glimpse of what could have been for the script and it’s downright tragic that they went with what they did for the main game’s dialogue. If they went with only the found items and cut out actual interaction with the corn or Vladdy, leaving the game completely silent, it would have made the game better.
Maize was concept over execution, style over substance, and yet it could barely get that right. There was considerably more effort put into some aspects of the game than others, which makes it an overall painful and uneven experience. Some cornfields are just meant to be burned down and made into a landfill.
Note: A copy of Maize was provided for review.
You can buy Maize on Steam for $19.99