Finishline Games (studio)
13 September 2017 (released)
23 September 2017
Everyone loves corn right? Corn on the cob, corny jokes, children of the corn and so on. What am I discussing? No idea, but I do know the title of today's game review is a pun on the name for corn, Maize which also acts a s a symbolic gesture to the lateral elements as well. This was a short explanation for those unfamiliar with the title or what it's meant to be or any confusion you've might of experienced.
I know, I've been there. Viewing Maize on first observations, I saw talking corn crops, a fowl mouth Russian robot Teddy bear and a sinister tale about complex government conspiracies featuring, you guessed it Corn! Players will take on the role of a nameless and speechless protagonist who awakens in the middle of a corn field with no memory of how they go there. Soon enough our nameless hero becomes entangled in an adventure to rescue the corn crops from mass destruction and save the day. With the aid of a small mechanical fowl mouthed Teddy bear the pair will stop the forces of evil and help the corn crops and their queen reach a new safe haven.
Maize plays out as a simple, down to earth first person exploration game with strong lateral elements and of course the bizarre and quirky sense of humor. Mechanically the game is single layered, keeping everything to an effective minimum. You collect items, you use items in their correct locations and progress further to complete more challenges. Simple, fun and strangely engrossing.
Within the first hour of playing however, you might think that Maize was a game made by a university student as a final year project. The only reason I state this is that while certain other aspects in game-play and the concept overall seem highly inventive, others elements bring down the experience as a whole. You'll often see a clash between the injections of brilliance and beautifully crafted segments of the game fighting off those more tedious, duller moments which could easily ruin the whole game.
Maize is and foremost a puzzle game with tons of exploration and interactivity. One of the strongest aspects in terms of design is the world itself. The complex you explore and the stories you discover are utterly compelling and players will become engrossed as they learn more and more about the history of this strange world. My favorite part in the narrative was finding these random post it notes featuring conversations between two brothers who were in charge of the facility. One a genius and the other a complete moron who wastes money on gold statues of himself, lobbies and cheap security systems. These exchanges were hilarious and pretty much the sense of humor is very good. Vladdy the Russian Teddy bear is also a good supporting character while the corn crops themselves are completely idiotic but lovable until the bitter and rather bleak end (but it's so funny, it's worth finishing the game just to see the ending).
But the main structure of the puzzle solving often falls into tedious fetch quests involving a trial/error formula of combining and using items until something clicks together. When there seems to be logic then a satisfying sense of reward. But the flow can either be generated or come to a complete halt finding some items is extremely difficult due to their size or their nature to blend into the scenery too well. It then becomes agonizing as you repeat exploring the same area, searching a dozen times over because a small key object is blending in with the background textures.
I remember in the first chapter I was stuck for a good 30 minutes, searching an area over and over to find what I needed. Finally I noticed the object blending in with the background textures. My pain in dealing with this type of flaw happened on a couple of occasions but the worst one was having to find a small strip of cello tape stuck on a white board which you might expect, can be very easily missed. It's good that exploration and keen observation is encouraged but a lot of items don't stand out, nor are they the right size to pick with on a first, second or third glance. Even with an outline, they can be rather easy to miss.
Also plenty of these fetch quests don't add up in a thrilling or compelling conclusion and just tend to repeat over and over. Several times you have to build a life size model to trick a security system to open the door while other tasks just require you to go back and forth multiple times across long distances. There are smaller segments such as being in a locked room and having to find a plutonium rod which were better constructed. Then there are more quirky segments such as a dance off an the very end as part of the game's climax.
Overall, I like Maize. There are plenty of aspects anyone can enjoy about it, it's sense of humor, likable supporting cast, quirky set pieces and the mystery of the complex itself and the lore stitched in. However the lateral elements feel underwhelming and often just resort to a mindless chore or fetching, exploring and at times endless back tracking for something you've missed.
++ Compelling and detailed game world
+ Good sense of humour
+ Good supporting cast
-- Repetitive and tedious fetch quests
- Some frame rate issues
- Obscure locations of certain items becomes very annoying
An Xbox One copy of Maize was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review