If science fiction has taught us anything, scientists trying to play God is most definitely a bad thing. Whether resurrecting dinosaurs or creating a world filled with animatronic cowboys, things never pan out as originally intended. As Dr Ian Malcolm said “…life finds a way” with the inmates inevitably running the asylum before the day is through. Maize takes the premise of tinkering with genetics to absurd levels with an insanely funny plot based on what would happen if two scientists misread a memo from the US government and created sentient corn.
From the outset, Maize sets out its stall as one of the most abstract first-person point and click adventures on the market. The game has a similar look and feel to Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, with a world devoid of human life, though peppered with the humour of early nineties Lucasart titles like Monkey Island. Along the way, you’ll encounter the musings of two scientists quite at odds with one another, intelligent corn (although I use the word intelligent incredibly loosely) and a grouchy animatronic teddy bear.
Maize, as with any point and click adventure, requires the player to locate and acquire various items in order to solve puzzles to further the game’s plot. As Maize’s world has a near-complete absence of life the game is largely progressed through documents and notes scattered throughout the world. Any items or documents that can be interacted with are outlined in white, setting them apart from the rest of the accumulated junk seen throughout the environments.
Both items and documents are able to be viewed in greater detail through a sub-menu, along with a description that provides some clue as to how any acquired items can be used. Items in your inventory are constantly displayed in the order you picked them up in the top right corner of the screen and can be cycled through until you reach the desired object. The majority of Maize’s puzzles involve searching for a certain item to be used in conjunction with another or used to open another area, much like the early Resident Evil games.
Through exploration and investigation, the silent protagonist comes to learn that the farm where he initially regains consciousness is actually a front for a top secret underground government research facility. Having encountered some of the lower order corn and accessed the facility, you learn through a series of hastily scribbled post-it notes that the two lead scientists were polar opposites and were at loggerheads with one another. These notes are absolute, 24 karat comedy gold, with the two constantly bickering over anything and everything, no matter how trivial or mundane; from overspending on their employees’ uniforms to one of the duo’s desire to turn the facility into a tourist attraction (despite being a highly-classified project).
Upon reaching a research lab you find what will become your companion for the rest of the game, an animatronic teddy bear named Vladdy; a grumpy Eastern Bloc era Teddy Ruxpin knock-off that takes great delight in insulting your intelligence at every opportunity. Having Vladdy constantly by your side essentially turns the game into a buddy co-op adventure, with his small stature coming in handy when needing to access tight spaces – although fair warning, he will bitch and moan every time he’s asked to do something.
Further into the game, you’ll meet the two higher order corn that are infinitely more intelligent than the bumbling drones that pop up at random intervals throughout the facility. These corn actual have a game plan of sorts, with one hell-bent on revenge and world domination and the other more of a messianic figure looking to free their race from the confines of the laboratory. As with nearly everything else in Maize, Vladdy finds both of them idiotic. I don’t want to give too much away about the ending, but it will bring a smile to your face as the end credits roll (more so if you’ve taken the time to read all of the post-it notes).
Despite the title’s obvious double meaning, Maize is a fairly linear adventure. Certain paths are blocked until a certain puzzle is solved, which involves a degree of backtracks to find the newly opened area. Luckily there’s an ability to run, which makes this less of a chore. Certain areas are revisited numerous times with the final chapter ending not too far from where you originally started. There are a few sections where it’s easy to become lost, though handy markers and signs dotted around help with navigation. In fact, one of these sections is timed which adds tension to proceedings as panic sets in as you race from A to B (and back again) before the timer expires.
The console version of Maize suffers a bit in terms of texture quality when on the farm, as the cornfields look rather bland and flat, as do some of the character models when compared to the PC version. Once below ground, the colours are brighter and the quality seems to improve, though the characters still look a tad ropey. Luckily, this doesn’t detract from the game overall, so I don’t see this as much of an issue.
The voice acting in game is solid, with a lot of silly voices. Vladdy’s thick Eastern European accent, whilst clichéd, is the stand-out performance with his constant complaining and criticisms of anything and everything he comes into contact with. Far from being annoying, Vladdy’s lines enhance the flow of the game no end.
Overall, I found Maize to be a funny, light-hearted take on the genre; I can genuinely say that I haven’t enjoyed playing a first-person adventure game as much as Maize. The comedy/sci-fi hybrid is a refreshing change from the standard horror theme, trudging around dark corridors at a snail’s pace, waiting for the obligatory jump scares. Also, I can’t remember the last time a game had me literally laughing out loud rather than the odd muffled chuckle. If Maize doesn’t tickle your funny bone there’s something seriously wrong with you.