STAFF REVIEW of Maize (Xbox One)

Saturday, September 30, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Maize Box art Like music, literature and movies, video games are a varied beast. They come in all colours, sizes and varieties; something which has never been more true than it is now. The reason? Well, that’s simple: indie games and their developers’ creativity, not to mention the freedom that comes with lower budgets and not having to worry about bending to a publisher’s wishes.

During its several years in existence, Microsoft’s Xbox One has played host to many different indie games, some of which have been better than others. There have been weird ones, for sure, but few have been stranger than Finish Line Games’ Maize, which comes to us from beautiful Toronto, Ontario, Canada. If that name rings a bell, it’s because you played Cel Damage HD, which the studio handled porting and improvement duties for.

Maize is a strange beast, and one that will elicit different opinions from each and every person who plays it. That’s because, not only is it weird and out there, but it’s also clunky and imperfect, with a very clunky opening that is further hindered by performance issues. Underneath the problems, though, lays a narrative so unique that it can’t help but be endearing.

Things begin in a nondescript cornfield, where the player’s avatar awakens and begins his first-person journey. He isn’t alone, though, as right from the get-go it becomes apparent that this isn’t just an everyday farm. After all, it’s not everyday that you see pieces of corn move and run out of frame, using their stalks as legs.

It’s due to the above that Maize is referred to as the game with the sentient corn. There’s quite a bit more to it, though, even if it only lasts three to four hours.

As a game, Maize is best described as a first-person point-and-click adventure game, which is a term that fits it relatively well. As such, you can expect the majority of your time with it to be spent going from area to area, or room to room, picking up different items. Said random pieces are then used in combination with others, in order to solve puzzles and aid your progression forward, be it through the farm itself, or the underground science lab that it hides.

The puzzles are weird, too, and sometimes very obtuse, to the point where a walkthrough can become your best friend. Although I hate using guides, I broke down and had to do so this time around, because I got stuck more than once. It doesn’t help that very little explanation is given, nor does it help when you’re occasionally tasked with using random objects in strange ways.

At the start of the game, you’ll find yourself holding a piece of bread, some nail clippers, rancid corn oil, a sink plug and a rusty nail. Then, later on, you’ll pick up a plethora of other odd things that could easily be called junk. Each one serves a purpose, either as a folio item (things like newspaper clippings, invoices and random junk that flesh out the story and are saved to your menu-based collection) or puzzle items that you can carry around and cycle between.

The end goal, of course, is to find every important puzzle item and use them together in the right way, not to mention the right order. Doing so will help you get through the game’s puzzles and challenges, all in an attempt to learn more about the experiments that created said sentient corn. At least, that’s your base goal. There’s more to the story, but it cannot be said, else everything will be spoiled.

Over the course of your journey, you’ll visit a farmhouse, a scientific laboratory and the average farm exterior, complete with an outhouse, a greenhouse, a silo and a barn. This one also has a pool, though it’s currently filled with radioactive waste. Thus, one can tell that the government hasn’t inspected the place in quite some time.

Despite its quirkiness, however, the gameplay that makes up Maize is clunky, occasionally obtuse and far from special. You simply walk through those different environments looking for things that stand out and glow in the dark. These are items that you can pick up and collect.

Little skill is required, but a good set of eyes are necessary, because it can be easy to miss things. This is especially true of a piece of tape that you’ll need for grabbing fingerprints off of a keyboard. I missed seeing it and picking it up on more than one occasion, and it wasn’t the only item that I had a hard time seeing.

Truth be told, I actually hated Maize the first time I played it; so much so that I dreaded going back to it and playing through the rest. It was clunky, rather ugly (the dark farmhouse with the glowing items, especially) and it ran poorly. That said, I’d only played about 5% of it then, so when I went back to it I had about 95% left to complete. And, you know what? It grew on me and became endearing. Not because of its gameplay, but its characters and quirky storyline, which has more than a couple talking (and walking) pieces of corn in it.

Sentient corn aren’t the stars of this show, however, even though the game is named Maize in reference to that vegetable. No, the real star here is an angry Russian bear named Vladdy, whom the player brings to life by combining a toy bear with an old computer and a stick of RAM.

Vladdy is a badass, and his constant spouting of anger-based one-liners turns a dull and bland game into a comedic and enjoyable one. Honestly, if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be giving this thing a positive score. He’s instrumental when it comes to the game’s enjoyment factor, and is hilarious in the way that he constantly berates the player, calling him or her a stupid idiot.

Maize does get better as it goes along, though, and there are two other characters who make for humorous content. Bob and Ted are their names, and they’re the two founders of the lab that hides underneath the farm and happens to have given birth to the walking, talking and dancing corn who stalk its hallways.

Although Bob and Ted are never seen, their personalities are felt in every room because of the messes they’ve made and the notes that they’ve left each other. Bob, you see, is an idiot of a scientist who loved spending outlandish amounts of money on stupid things, like statues, paintings, brochures and numerous amounts of lobbies. Why? Well, he had it in his mind that the lab would become open to tours, which was obviously never going to happen. Ted tried telling him this, but he just wouldn’t listen.

There are well over a hundred different Post-It notes spread around the base, with blue signaling Ted and pink used for Bob. What’s funny is that, although all of Ted’s notes are angry and full of yelling, he always signs off with “Cordially, Ted.” Then, even though Bob is an idiot and a slob (whose bedroom is a complete write-off), all of his notes are written in fine, articulate handwriting.

Needless to say, Maize’s real and lasting charm doesn’t come from its gameplay. Instead, the best things about this short indie affair come from its quirky characters and unique narrative. The game that surrounds them is mostly just busywork, although it has its moments.

Visually, Maize is nothing special. It runs poorly on the Xbox One – especially during its outdoor segments – and looks dated. The sound work is better, though, and it’s the voice acting and 80s synth-style music that really stand out. For some reason, all of the male corn characters speak with British accents and like to do only two different things: nap and stand in front of walls.

Should you buy Maize? Maybe, but perhaps not. If you’re looking for something quirky, unique and downright weird, then this is definitely worth looking into, provided that you’re okay with some obtuse busywork and clunky mechanics. On the other hand, if you’re looking for polish, length and replay value, you may want to look elsewhere.

**This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.**

Overall: 5.9 / 10
Gameplay: 5.4 / 10
Visuals: 5.2 / 10
Sound: 7.3 / 10


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