A sigh-entific adventure
Most of us love a genuinely funny game every once in a while; I certainly know that I do. As attracted as I am to games with enticing and serious plotlines, it’s nice to be able to sit down with a game and just laugh. Humor is kind of a strange thing though. A “serious storyline” is generally excepted by most people as such. If the main character’s entire village is attacked and their parents are killed, you’re probably not going to have a bunch of people sitting around asking one another “now was that really that bad?” because yes – slaughtering someone’s parents is objectively bad. There’s no such luck with humor though, because it’s incredibly subjective! What you may find absolutely hilarious I may find cringe-inducingly awful and vice-versa, and normally that’s fine where it becomes an issue is when you’re trying to specifically develop a humorous game. Now, obviously, you can’t make something that’s going to be funny to everyone. Rather, the key is to create something comically appealing to most people. It’s something that a lot of video games have tried with varying amount of success, and today we take a look at one the latest in the long line of comedy-focused games – Maize.
Maize is a game about… well, I can’t really come right out and say it. That would be ruining the game’s story which, to be blunt, there isn’t much of. Essentially the game begins with you waking up in a cornfield and wandering around without knowing who you are, where you are, what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it. After wandering about for a while, picking up Object A and placing it in Slot A and so on, you eventually end up in a laboratory. Apparently the lab was used by a couple of half-witted scientists to make sentient corn. I’m not really sure what happened to them, or how they ended up in the situation that they were. What you’re doing in the lab and why you are there is also never really touched upon until the end.
That last paragraph probably didn’t do Maize much justice, did it? After reading that, you’re probably saying to yourself “dude, that was so vague. I probably could have written a description like that from viewing the trailers alone. Did you even play the game?” Yes, I can assure you that I played the game all the way through. And do you know what? About 90% of the story-related content in the game is never touched upon. You mostly go about doing things “just because”. I’ve never not been able to explain a game’s story before, but I can’t do it this time due to the fact that all of the story comes at the very, very end of the game (and really isn’t anything to get excited over).
Maize’s story is pretty lackluster and borders on nonexistent, but that isn’t necessarily a death sentence on its own. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only issue that I had with the game. No, the characters in Maize were pretty disappointing too. First, there’s the sentient corn. They’re large in number, but they all have the same personality (barring two special characters which I won’t cover for the sake of spoilers) – being incredibly forgetful, having an obsession with naps, and, to top it off, speak in British accents (which they apparently learned from a book). Next, we have a mechanical stuffed bear by the name of “Vladdy” that your character assembled without any prior knowledge of how or why they were doing so. An ironic Russian stereotype, Vladdy follows you around for what I can only assume is a feeling of debt due to the fact that you brought him to life; this was yet another thing that was literally not touched upon at all despite its importance, so I can only speculate. Vladdy probably has most of the spoken lines in the game, but most of them are dedicated to telling you that you’re an idiot. It got old really fast.
Finally, there are the two scientists, simply known as “Bob” and “Tom”, who created the mysterious facility in which most of Maize takes place. While you never actually meet them, you get to know more about them along their journey thanks to the hundreds of sticky notes that they left around the lab. Though partners, Bob and Tom got along so poorly that they never worked together; sticky notes were their communication method of choice. There was also a mysterious third scientist named Helen who, in contrast to Bob and Tom, seemed quite competent. Helen did end up playing a role in the game’s ending, but the fact that she’s connected to the ending is so briefly touched upon that it’s pretty easy to miss. All of the characters seem to have their entirety dedicated to the art of the gag in Maize. I suppose that it would have its appeal to certain audiences, but to those such as myself it was almost abrasive how everything and everyone adhered to the cringe-inducing “LoL iM sO rAnDoM” shtick so vehemently. Who knows. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe this is hilarious, and I’m in the wrong here. I just felt that, given how much promise other aspects of the game had, most notably the graphics, the writing was kind of a slap in the face.
Now, let’s move away from “bad” and onto “okay” by taking a look at the gameplay. Maize is a first-person 3D adventure game and essentially works as what I could best describe as a “3D point and click without the actual pointing and clicking”. That may sound kind of confusing, but I assure you that it isn’t. I kind of touched upon it a bit earlier in the review (albeit with a bit of sarcasm), but the gameplay essentially involves a lot of first-person exploration, item collecting, and item usage. The actual exploration is pretty great, namely due to the unbelievable amount of time and effort that went into the graphics. Every new room was a treat to the eyes, and that’s especially good with Maize because the actual player interaction was quite limited. Unlike with a lot of Point-and-click/3D adventure games, it’s never difficult to figure out what to do, and this is mainly because the game forcibly guides you throughout your entire journey. Maize, for the most part, prevents you from backtracking thus ensuring that any missing item is always in your immediate area. Have an item but not sure what it does? Check the item description – most of the time an item’s description will literally tell you exactly what the item does (generally in a “whacky” way). I’m actually pretty bad at games like this because, no matter how hard I try, I always end up overlooking something. Seriously, I’m that guy who dies in almost every way possible in every Sierra game he plays. While I did appreciate the fact that the game didn’t leave me hanging high and dry, I would have appreciated just a little bit more of a challenge. There were never any instances of what I call “gaming panic” that made me carefully think about all the places that I had been to because everything was always in my immediate vicinity.
Aside from collecting items necessary for game progression in Maize, there are 75 optional items that can be picked up along the way and are added to the players “Folio”. While I was hopeful that these items would provide a bit of backstory), what I ended up with were 60-something (I told you I tended to miss things, remember?) supposedly-funny blurbs that caused me to emit an audible sigh more than once or twice. Look, I get it – it’s supposed to be a funny game – but forcing it this much is having the opposite effect. At least four of the items I picked up were rocks – literally just rocks that your character gave names to. I just don’t get it.
Okay, time to focus on the positives! I know that I’ve been kind of harsh, but Maize isn’t without its redeeming qualities. I’ve mentioned it a few times already, but I don’t mind saying it again – the graphics are absolutely incredible. Seriously, everything is so painstakingly detailed and beautiful that just aimlessly wandering around (which you’ll be doing anyway) is quite a treat for the eyes. Maize’s gorgeous graphics do present a bit of a disconnect to me though. It literally felt as though the designers spent all of their time making this game look as beautiful as possible and then said “well it looks good, so it doesn’t really matter what actually happens in the game!” If everything else within Maize was presented as eloquently as the graphics were, I’m positive that I would have been singing a much different tune throughout my review.
Maize’s visuals were accompanied by a soundtrack comprised primarily of campy-sounding sci-fi tunes that complimented the overall atmosphere of the game. There was also a rather surprising lyrical piece presented toward the end of the game that, much to my delight, I found to be incredibly amusing due to how self-aware and over-the-top it was.
In a weird way, Maize ends up being much like the mythical creature known as the Siren. It enticed me with gorgeous graphics, entertaining music, and a unique premise, but ultimately was not what it seemed upon closer inspection. With an abundance of cringe-worthy attempts at humor, transparent story, and gameplay that always holds your hand, Maize isn’t the bountiful adventure game harvest that it first set itself up to be.
FINAL VERDICT: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Finish Line Games ; Developer: Finish Line Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: December 1, 2016; MSRP: $19.99
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a PC copy of Maize provided by the publisher