The things to know about Maize are that it’s a game about sentient corn and there’s a teddy bear that speaks in a thick Russian accent in it. After playing the game for about four hours, I know some other things about Maize, but those are the factors that are likely to sell it to you. Those are the factors that sold it to me.
Here are some other things to know: it’s a first-person adventure game, or more accurately, a first-person adventure game that feels like an old fashioned point-and-click adventure. You’ve been tasked with investigating a mysterious corn farm. It’s mysterious because, as it turns out, there’s an abandoned science facility beneath it, operated by two idiot scientists by the name of Bob and Ted.
Once you’ve secured access to the facility (and once you’ve, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, eaten three mysterious pellet-shaped objects) you’ll discover that they’ve created sentient corn after misinterpreting a government directive. According to portraits and post-it notes found throughout the facility, Bob is an idiot with a box-shaped head and Ted is a villainous bully. They live off cheeseburgers and are seemingly bad at science, so it’s surprising that any government wants to collaborate with them.
During the hours I played, the point-and-click inspired parts of the game were fairly rote. Most of the time, you’ll pick something up and use it to interact with some other thing. To name one example, I needed to fill a sink full of greasy water in order to remove a dead hand from a working glove. It gets funnier: later, in order to secure access to a level of the facility, I had to draw a terrible portrait of Bob with an etch-and-sketch. The solutions are mostly common sense, but they sometimes rely on trial and error. Even then they’re rarely annoying, because the game adequately signposts objects in the world that can be interacted with. I left off at a point where the puzzles were getting more complex, where the various bits and pieces needed a bit more lateral thinking in order to make them work together.
Still, the game doesn’t seem to want to stump you - it wants to make you laugh again. These puzzles are mostly a way to push you through the environments and help the story to unfold, and the story is very funny. The sentient corn is not evil like I suspected: they speak in posh English accents and posit riddles to each other. Meanwhile, once you’ve constructed Vladdy the talking Russian bear, he mostly follows you around and abuses you. Sometimes he’s able to fix certain terminals in order to help you proceed, but usually he’s just mean. Vladdy, it needs to be said, is an arsehole. It’s sad that this game does not let you attack anything, because if it did I would whack the stupid bear over the head with the English muffin that’s always mysteriously in my inventory.
Just look at the stupid way he walks:
The humour shines through item descriptions as well. I found a “nondescript” rock called Mabel and a “mediocre” rock called Chauncey. I found a mystery novel spoiled on the first page. Meanwhile, the game often reminds me not to press Q, because it does nothing. Typically enough, I pressed Q, not because I’m a punk but because I thought the game wanted me to. Sure enough, whenever I’m a little bit stumped I stop to press Q, in case something might happen. It hasn’t done. Yet.
There are a couple of things I don’t like about the game: firstly, Vladdy is a terrible bear. I hate him. Secondly, sometimes the running speed is too slow, especially when you’re backtracking through fairly non-descript hallways deep in the facility. That said, outside of these fairly bland connecting corridors, the environments are beautifully cluttered, full of post-it notes to read and stacks of filth to marvel at. Sometimes, at the edge of your field-of-view, you’ll see what appears to be an angry cornstalk flitter around a corner. It’s a very charming game, never too taxing on the mind, and even though I generally dislike first-person games lacking weapons, and even though I thoroughly dislike puzzles, I’m definitely going to play it to the end, because it’s funny.
But also because there are still things I need to know about Maize: did Bob and Ted intend to militarise the sentient corn? Why is there a bloated stalk of maize stalking the halls grumbling about me? Did the trapped sentient corn I found with beautiful pink hair want to welcome me into the sentient corn community? Why do I need to explore this facility when it might be easier just to blow it up? Why is Vladdy such a bastard? Should I keep pressing Q? Will I grow to love that vile bear? The more I think about Maize, the sillier and more alluring it is. It's on Steam and the Humble Store (opens in new tab) now.