I’m not sure whether it was because it was late at night, or whether I had watched one too many Children of the Corn films, but the opening to Maize was completely terrifying. Walking through tight rows of corn with blind corners everywhere, I was at my wits end wondering if anything was going to jump out at me. Thankfully though, the horror was all in my head and what followed was a short, but very pleasant journey through a unique game world.
Maize is a first-person puzzle adventure that takes place in an abandoned farm which houses a Government facility underneath its outer shell. And it is here where things get interesting, as this facility mis-read a memo and in the process, created sentient corn. It’s up to you to figure out how, why and what this corn is planning next.
What follows makes even less sense as you begin your journey through the corn fields and then into the facility itself. Soon, you will come across a talking bear named Vladdy, who also happens to have a thick Russian accent – compared to the talking corn that are most definitely British. Vladdy acts as a sidekick, assisting you by climbing through the vents that you cannot fit through. However, he makes it abundantly clear that he isn’t happy about your requests to do so.
Despite this, Vladdy is superbly written and while the Russian accent can only be described as hammy at best, it all adds to the overall feel of the game.
If it wasn’t immediately clear already, this game doesn’t take itself seriously at all and its irreverent and absurdist humour actually had me giggling at times. On occasions it feels forced, but for the most part this is a game that does humour well.
Maize could be construed as a walking simulator, and like many walking simulators you get more out of it the more you veer off the main track. Collectibles are present in the game and these help flesh out the world, but also dotted around are hundreds of post-it notes in two different colours. These colours represent the voices of the founders of the facility, and you’ll find a constant back and forth narrative between the two. One of the founders got their certification through the standard means, attending college and university, but the other however attained theirs through a cereal box or claw game, depending on which day you ask him. This should tell you everything you need to know about the contents of their post-it notes, and they add another layer of humour that is well worth seeking out.
The game offers help by highlighting things that can be picked up and then highlighting where to place them. Failing that, it also provides clues whenever you inspect the items in your inventory. Maize isn’t a difficult game, but it is useful that cryptic clues are given for some of the more obscure items and where they are needed. Also, everything in your inventory is useful, so if you continue to carry something longer than most other things, then you shouldn’t panic, as it will have its use at some point.
For all the praise this game deserves, the framerate does let it down severely. This is most noticeable in the beginning as your tiptoe around the cornfield, being afraid of your own shadow (at least I was), and watching the framerate stuttering throughout. Thankfully it is less noticeable once you head inside the facility, but there are occasions when you do need to venture back outside.
The ending to Maize is also outside, but it is a set-piece against the protagonist that I can only describe as wonderful. It was an absolute joy to see the climax to the story done in such a bizarre way, but it was one I couldn’t help but play through things with a big grin on my face throughout. It really topped off the game in an excellent way. Without spoiling it too much, there is a ‘big’ (relatively speaking in terms of the scope of this game) twist just before the final showdown. But you do not have time to really take it in as the ‘corn’-ucopia of sentient corn needs saving in a completely absurd way. It is however completely fitting with how ‘out there’ this game is. See what I did there?
Graphically, Maize isn’t anything to write home about though. It is sub-par for the Xbox One in all honesty. And again it’s the whole inside versus outside issue, with everything looking slightly worse outside than inside. Every surface has a slightly grubby look to it which can be off-putting at first, however, in the context of the story actually makes a bit of sense. That is an unintentional bonus in a game where all sense has been thrown out of the window.
As mentioned before, this is a short game, and this is reflected in the achievements. The game has 14 achievements, 12 of which are earnt through completing the story. Another is earned through finding all the collectibles and the final one obtained by completing a speedrun in less than two hours and in one sitting. My first time playing through Maize took just over four hours, but once you know which object to use when and where, it can easily be completed within the required two hours. It is a game that deserves to be played through more than once too, so this shouldn’t be a burden to complete.
The price however also lets the game down. Whilst an early discount was in place, its full price is £15.99 – and unfortunately that is too much for a game that is as short as this.
I really enjoyed Maize, perhaps more than I should have. I was expecting the game to be absurd to the point where it made no sense, but in reality I found the story cohesive. Completely out there with a Russian teddy bear and walking, talking corn stalks, but still cohesive. As a big fan of Portal, this has obvious similarities to it, what with it being a humorous first-person puzzler. The gameplay isn’t as technically demanding as Portal mind, in fact the only skill required for Maize is to pick up and place objects in the correct place, but it is a fun game that is worth a weekend of your time. If of course you can stomach the high price point for a shorter experience.