In a world full of vengeful assassins, plumbers with dependency issues, and anti-bullying campaigns that masquerade themselves as racing games (yes, I’m talking about you Gran Turismo Sport) it’s about time that somebody dared to make a game about sentient corn. Yes, you read that correctly. Maize (Finish Line Games, available on PC, Xbox one and PS4, MSRP $19.99) is a game whose on-screen characters are made up entirely of sentient corn . . . oh and an annoying Russian teddy-bear, but we’ll come back to that. This unique indie title was developed by Toronto-based studio Finish Line Games, who was responsible for the HD remaster of Cel Damage, a vehicular combat game that looks half Borderlands and half Twisted Metal. However, while Cel Damage doesn’t exactly win any awards for originality, Maize is whole other story.
Speaking of story, let’s talk about this unique adventure that takes place in the American heartland, where if you see a large farm in the middle of nowhere, chances are there’s a large government funded laboratory hidden several feet beneath it. Unlike most of the indie games that have flooded the market in this current generation of consoles, Maize has a very simple story. A couple of government scientists misinterpreted a memo and accidentally created sentient corn stalks instead of whatever it was they were actually supposed to create (which is never exactly made clear). And that’s where this awkwardly entertaining first-person adventure begins. It’s your job to investigate the farm, the abandoned facility and the plight of the sentient corn stalks by solving puzzles, picking up items and occasionally facing off with a rogue cornstalk in a large leafy coat named Cornacabra, who wants you to fail so he can lead his fellow cornstalks in a violent revolution against humans. During your investigation, you’ll encounter all kinds of weird and unpredictable things like a talking teddy-bear/super computer named Vladdy, who thinks you’re an idiot and is funny for about two of the nearly ninety minutes he spends following you around. There’s also a side story told entirely with blue and pink sticky notes that chronicle the rise and fall of the two idiot scientists who ran the underground facility, named Bob and Ted. To make a long story short, they ran out of funding because they squandered all of their money on large statues of themselves, lobbies they bought in bulk, and advertising materials for a resort/theme park.
Now, let’s talk about the gameplay. Maize isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill first person game. While the graphics are modern and fairly beautiful in some aspects, the gameplay resembles a more classic point and click adventure. You wander around the facility, interacting with the environment, while picking up items and using them to solve puzzles that help you unravel the story, while moving onto the next part of the underground facility. And seeing how the developers want you to laugh more than struggle, most of the puzzles are fairly easy to solve, and your progression is facilitated by three sentient corn stalks, who like to talk in riddles, argue with each other and take naps. Then there’s Vladdy, the talking Russian teddy-bear who you help bring to life using some machine parts and a stick of RAM. He’s sort of an asshole, and he verbally abuses you constantly, but he does prove to be useful when it comes to opening doors, crawling through vents and scaring away Cornacabra. And if you ever find yourself stuck, each of the items you pick up has a clue about what you’re supposed to do with it . . . you know, if the colored outlines shaped like those items aren’t enough.
That being said, there are so many great things about this game. Before I go on, I’ll be completely honest for a minute. When I was asked to review this, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. Gaming season has officially started, and I have Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Super Mario: Odyssey, and Wolfenstein II still in their wrapping and sitting on the shelf next to my consoles. But, if you couldn’t tell, the gaming scene is about experience a renaissance of sorts. With large studios causing the collapse of AAA gaming and our bank accounts by filling games with loot boxes, unavoidable multi-player and in-game purchase options, the future of video games may very well rest in the hands of indie-developers. And if Maize is any indication of the quality we’re going to get, the future is in good hands. Anyway, I digress. Maize’s simplicity is one factor that works heavily in its favor. By keeping the plot a mystery and revealing it little by little through optional and unavoidable interactions, the developers were able to take a game with very few in-game mechanics and keep it interesting to very end. The graphics are worth being mentioned, as well. As soon as the game starts you get a taste of their beauty first hand. Everything from the environments to the way the sun casts light through the cornfields is carefully detailed and full of shifting colors. Finally, the dialogue is very well-written. It’s rare that you find a game, whose writers aren’t afraid to take chances. Maize does a good job of taking random and occasionally awkward topics and ideas and using them to develop both the characters and the narrative, as a whole. To put it simply, it’s funny.
As for the bad, the flaws in this game are few and far between. The main one being how annoying Vladdy the talking Russian Teddy Bear is – though I guess he sort of redeems himself in the end. Other than that, the loading times when moving from one area to the next are almost Skyrim bad, as in it sometimes takes over a minute for the next area to load, and you’re sometimes left wondering if the game froze. Then there’s the soundtrack. I get that the game is supposed to a have a Monty-Python/X-Files vibe to it, but the music does very little to facilitate the mood of the game and sounds like it was done entirely on a synthesizer using only three or four notes.
As a whole, Maize is an entertaining experience and completely worth the $19.99 it costs to play it. Though some might argue that because the game itself is only two or three hours long, depending on how much time you spend exploring, it should be less. On the plus side of that argument, it never once feels like it needs to end or outstays its welcome. If anything, it shows that not all good games have to take weeks to beat and require DLC to give you the complete experience. Finish Line Games has done an amazing job with Maize and has proven that comedy and fulfillment can easily exist in the same game without feeling like a low-budget Will Ferrell movie.
(Please note that for this review, Pop Culture Cosmos/Game Source did receive a review code/model/sample from Public Relations Firm/Developer/Publisher responsible for distribution to the press.)