Based in Toronto, Canada, Finish Line Games is an indie game studio that embraces the weird. Look no further than Maize, the 2016 first person adventure game based around sentient corn. After stewing on the PC a bit, console owners are finally getting the chance to dive into this curious and absurd world. It’s interesting, almost defiantly irreverent, and one of the weirdest games I’ve played in a while. Part point n’ click adventure, part first person narrative adventure, Maize is a confounding game. It shouldn’t exist, yet it does. Can a game all about sentient corn maintain its comedy?
Maize sets a good first impression, starting you off in a beautifully lit corn maze on an expansive farm. For a budget priced indie title, the game looks exceptionally nice. Textures occasionally glitch here and there, and the seams tend to poke out a bit, but Maize is a visually appealing adventure. Well, until you start to move.
The layers of fancy lighting effects and lack of draw distance limit comes at a hefty price, as the frame rate can get noticeably shoddy. Once you reach the indoor sections of the game, the performance becomes stable. However, the chuggy frames of the introduction section set an equally bad impression, essentially canceling each other out. Things are very nice to look at, but at the sacrifice of performance. For me, that’s a big issue. For some, this won’t matter.
The farm does serve as a decent introduction to the game’s mechanics, easing you into the gameplay loop. As you explore your surroundings, you’ll encounter highlighted objects in the environment. If an object is highlighted, it indicates your ability to pick it up, or interact with it. Small puzzles block your progress, and you’ll need to use your amassed inventory to solve them. Some puzzles are intuitive and easy to figure out, others not so much. Puzzles can often be brute-forced as well, by simply trying each item in your inventory on every highlighted spot. In some ways, it’s a bit disappointing. On the other hand, puzzles can occasionally make zero sense, so pushing your way through them is the only viable option. Thankfully, Maize often blocks routes and passages until they’re needed, ensuring you won’t get too lost or confused.
What Lies Below
The real identifying feature of Maize is not its puzzle gameplay or visual fidelity, but rather the absolutely insane story it tells. I’ll do my best not to spoil things, as the game’s oddities are best experienced fresh. In part, Maize focuses on exploring the farm and an extensive research facility, basically forming motivation and story as it goes. The other part of Maize is truly bonkers stuff like sentient corn, Russian teddy bears, expensive and unnecessary lobbies, and the power of dance. Sounds weird? It’s weirder than you think.
The corn central themes of Maize urge me to open this paragraph with a pun, but I won’t give into the easy joke. Thankfully, Maize never does either, providing comedy that is both smart and subversive. The humor of the game extends beyond simple dialogue or narrative themes, bleeding into the gameplay and on screen text as well. Sometimes you’ll pick up items that have absolutely no use, and the accompanying text will make a random joke at your expense. For example, upon picking up a coffee machine and inspecting it, I was greeted with this message…
“You took this not because you want to make coffee, but that you heard that coffee machines grant you one wish. After much thought, you wish for coffee. It doesn’t come true.”
The Bottom Line on Maize
Anti-jokes and spiteful humor is a constant throughout Maize‘s 3 to 6 hour journey, and it’s a style of comedy I eventually found grating. The game is quite funny, but dialogue gets repetitive and one note. In regards to a specific character, writing can be sloppy and uninspired, often resorting to name calling. In fact, this bleeds into world building notes and documents as well, with every joke eventually boiling down to a combination of the words “stupid” or “idiot”.
The puzzle-heavy gameplay keeps things interesting, but the quality of the puzzles wavers over time. As you start to back track through previously explored areas, Maize has a tendency to overstay its welcome for just a bit too long. Combining this with the frequent technical issues when in outdoor environments, the game ends up being too inconsistent to recommend wholly.
If you’re a fan of first person narrative experiences and embrace the weirder ideas of life, Maize might be up your alley. You’ll also want to be a fan of puzzle games, as it makes up the bulk of your actual game play. Maize drew me in with its quirky premise and overall oddball tone. I found myself laughing out loud, but also getting annoyed as the same jokes were repeated. Maize sees its joke through to the end, but you may not be laughing by the end. It was an interesting experience, and definitely one of the weirdest games in recent memory. However, its inconsistency in both performance, gameplay, and comedy edges out to an okay average.