Maize: Progress Log #1

Maize is a weird little game, and one that I hadn’t heard of until I saw that it was getting a console release. Apparently it had a PC release in December 2016 and was one of those titles that slipped under my radar when things started to get busy. I’ve now played through what feels like half-ish (or possibly slightly more) of the game and can confidently say a few things about it. First, it doesn’t make a particularly good first impression. I managed to get stuck and have to restart the game within my first minute of playing, which set off all kinds of alarm bells. Second, the humor and adventure-game-meets-walking-simulator style give the whole thing an incredibly weird (but nevertheless relaxed) vibe. Third, there are a whole lot of oranges, and the way they block off areas is undeniably game-y. Fourth, I’m enjoying myself quite a bit now despite the issues I’ve encountered. This is one of those humor-centric games where the constant self-awareness is charming enough to make nagging little imperfections easily forgivable things. Thus far, at least.

Graphics and first impressions

This is how the game starts:

A closeup view of a texture (which makes it look blurry) while the camera clips through the ground probably isn’t the ideal way of showing off your game’s graphical prowess. I assume that this was one of those necessary evils where the story of how the playable character ended up in this place ends up factoring into the plot at some point, but it’s still a questionable way to kick things off. Of course, Maize is also capable of being incredibly pretty, mostly owing to its moody lighting. It definitely has certain “PC indie” underpinnings, though, such as the grass sitting on top of the ground texture without the two really working together to make for believable patches. That’s admittedly nitpicking in the extreme, especially since the very beginning is the only part that’s taken place outside, but it functions as an example of the way visually interesting areas can be somewhat tarnished here.

There’s also some texture flickering here and there. This kind of stuff isn’t a big deal by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have an effect on the overall gaming experience. For example, I was inside and one of the signs on a wall was half-black. This could be suggesting that one half had been charred by some accident, but it’s hard to read into things like that when it could simply be some kind of texture bug.

I fell behind a fence

The very first thing I did was try to get a feel for the controls. Things like movement speed, whether it’s possible to jump (it isn’t), and the way the physics react to various things. To that end, I noticed that I popped on top of a fence when I walked toward a lower part of it, so I tried to walk along it. Then fell on the other side and ended up stranded, forcing me to quit out of the game and reload my save.

Needless to say, my first impressions weren’t very positive.

But the humor started winning me over

Since Maize has been out for PC for quite some time, there’s plenty of gameplay footage of it out there. I skipped through various videos, trying to figure out if this was something I’d be interested in, and this (great) scene made up my mind:

A bunch of sentient corn stalks with distinctly amusing personalities? I needed to play this, and thus far the humor has been everything I’d hoped it’d be. It avoids lazily relying on references, is subtle enough to avoid coming across as pushy or desperate for a laugh, and best of all, is completely aware that this is a video game and sometimes silly, contrived things happen to push things along.

This has a positive effect on the gameplay

Maize is kind of like a mixture between a classic point-and-click and a walking simulator. You walk around in first-person view and grab everything that the game allows you to take, eventually using those items in ridiculous ways so that you can pick up more items and unlock new areas. There are two kinds of items. Folio items are ones that you pick up and that serve no purpose but to provide you with humorous bits of lore about the place you’re in or comment on the strangeness of the playable character. These are non-essential collectibles, really. Then there are usable items that can be used on objects in the environment (like a key on a door), and occasionally set down in predetermined spots so that you can use another item on them. An example of the latter would be setting down a bent piece of metal so that you can hammer it straight. Obviously this cuts down on the tedium of using every item on every other item that many adventure games suffer from.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on whether you plan on playing Maize for its humor or its gameplay. There’s really nothing inherently challenging about the parts of the game I’ve gone through (with one slight exception I’ll get into in a bit), so simplifying the challenging part of its adventure game DNA definitely makes things easier, and some people may take issue with that. I have no opinion either way on that simplification, though the way many items hint at their eventual use in their descriptions is something I find absolutely brilliant. You can see that in the video above where the descriptions of the nail clippers and rusty nail both make their actual purpose obvious. This allows the game to embrace occasional moon logic without it being a hassle for the player, and this is a huge plus in Maize’s favor.

Let’s talk about timed sections

At one point, you press a button and have to race through a maze to put an item somewhere, then race back through it the other way to hit the button again. The slightly claustrophobic and same-looking corn stalks at the beginning of the game messed with my (highly underdeveloped) sense of direction a bit, but this is where getting lost really became annoying. It’s the only section like this I’ve seen up to to the point where I stopped playing, though, and failing it gets you entertaining failure text and takes you back to before you pressed the button. That’s not that bad.

I suppose part of the tension of that section—and the entire game, really—is that it’s never obvious when the game is actually saving. There don’t seem to be any obvious icons that I’ve noticed, and not knowing how far back you’ll find yourself if you quit out of the game is uncomfortable. As far as I can tell, it saves after you get new items, and possibly at certain area checkpoints, but I’m still not entirely sure.

Oranges are your enemy

Areas you’re not supposed to reach yet are blocked off by boxes of oranges in one of the weirdest game-y contrivances I can remember encountering. At first I thought this was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen. Eventually it grew on me because of its bizarre nature. This can also be considered one of the elements that streamlines the adventure side of things, because you’ll eventually make a note of areas with oranges, recognizing that they’re later areas that you’ll need to backtrack to.

I think this might be a bug?

When I first entered this room, there were three sentient corn stalks talking to each other. They had collision boxes to keep you from walking through them, naturally. When I came back later, they had all disappeared, but one of the collision boxes seemed to have remained as a random invisible wall. I’m assuming it’s a bug.

[Click here to go to Maize log #2 (END)]

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