The best thing about a video game in which the antagonists are sentient mutated corn, is that it allows for a great deal of corn related humour and puns. For example, is this first person puzzle game in which you accompany a talking angry teddy bear around a top secret science facility and solve puzzles a-maize-ing?
No. No it’s not. In fact, the biggest challenge with this game was to find the inner strength necessary to keep on playing in order to review it. Harsh I know, but allow me to explain why I’m being so mean to Maize and why I think its a bit crop.
The developers of Maize have attempted to take the golden age of Lucasarts point and click adventures and turn them into a first person puzzle experience. This includes the comedic elements so well delivered in classics such as Sam & Max and Day of the Tentacle. Whilst this is a noble intention, there’s just one slight problem: Maize isn’t funny. It tries so hard and it’s desperate to make you laugh, but the harder it tries the more embarrassing it becomes.
There’s two approaches in the game’s attempts at guffaws and giggles. Firstly, there’s the surreal text boxes for you to read when you find an item in the game world, where it aims Monty Pythonesque whimsy, but instead the descriptions feel empty and hollow. Secondly there’s the sentient corn you meet during your visit to the lower depths of the laboratory, who banter and witter like extras from an unpublished Lewis Carrol novel. Yet without any pacing and comedy timing to the performances, all of the gags are spewed out with machinegun rapidity and end up missing the target every time. It’s like you are watching a stand up routine when there isn’t a single pause by the comic for audience reaction.
Even the disgruntled Russian teddy bear, Vladdy, who looked so promisingly humorous in the trailers, is left limp and lifeless by having no real zingers to assail the competency of the player. Instead, he has to resort to calling them ‘stupid’ again and again. The sheer dulling repetitiveness of the jibe renders it utterly meaningless. In short, this field of comedy has not been harvested to its full potential.
So what of the puzzles? Perhaps Maize can be saved by some rock solid gameplay? Unfortunately not, as the puzzles are very corny. Instead of utilising puzzles based in real word physics, a technique which can prove so satisfying when combined with the power of modern hardware, Maize instead goes with the traditional point and click approach, but without any nuance and subtlety. Its simply a case of the player wondering around the level, collecting every item they can see, and then finding the corresponding highlighted shapes in the environment to fit the item into. It’s the videogame equivalent of a toddler’s toy where the shaped block must be inserted into the correspondingly shaped hole.
Most of the time the puzzles are without agenda or purpose, simply an uninspired repetition of clicking ‘X’ until you choose the right item and stumble on the solution the game is looking for. This denies any possibility of free form problem solving by the player. You have to solve the puzzle exactly as the Finish Line intended, otherwise no progress is possible in the linear journey. This led me to several moments of frustration whilst I was left wondering aimlessly and became husky with shouting at my TV, hoping that sheer dumb luck would see me through the next section.
There’s no option to go off the beaten track and explore the levels to discover kernels of truth about the backstory, as your path is often blocked by what may be worse than simple invisible walls. Stacks of orange crates or boxes block your path in all their gloriously low detail, only to disappear once a puzzle is completed. The developer attempts to laugh it off with some fourth wall breaking asides that directly reference the boxes, but it doesn’t hide the fact that its just plain poor design.
All that pointless meandering put some serious hurt on my eyeballs. The developer has used a heavy amount of colour and filtering that makes the graphics look incredibly static and unmoving. Combine this with extreme motion blur when any player movement occurs and its clearly going to be some stomach churning fun for all the family. It’s as if you are sliding through a photograph. This gave me an intense feeling of nausea as I glided around identically tedious corridors and vents, hoping to find the next highlighted object to add to my collection. Graphically, there are some standout moments as the golden sun glistens through fields of corn and sand coloured farmhouses are silhouetted by bright blue sky, but it’s mostly uninspired stuff and not something I expected to report in a game about mutated humanoid corn. It’s very cornfusing.
Talking of the corn, the incredibly limited animation certainly dampens the personality of the creatures and further hampers attempts of humour. There’s the music to consider too, and initially the synth styled track manages to be both spooky and unsettling. Then it becomes utterly irritating as the slow realisation dawned on my ears ‘of corn’ that the same soundtrack will repeat time and time again over the course of the game’s run time. This is made slightly more bearable with the game being wrapped up in around four hours, but then there’s the added cornsideration that this £15.99 title is all over with in such a short space of time.
I wanted to like Maize, I really did. The initial trailers promised precise puzzle solving and surreal Pythonesque humour, yet there is very little here for me to be able to recommend and I find myself being very s-corn-ful. The dull and tedious gameplay and misjudged humour making the limited run time a dreary drudge to the finish line. It simply shucks.
Right, that’s it. No more corn puns.
Version Tested: PS4