As a big fan of offbeat games and bizarre humor, Finish Line Games’ first-person 2016 adventure MAIZE was one of those instant must-play titles based on the concept alone. Well okay, I didn’t get to it until it hit PS4 this past week, but it was worth the wait. Sentient (mostly) British-accented corn created by a pair of not right in the head scientists, a cranky Russian-accented talking teddy bear and a silent protagonist out to figure out what’s going on? What’s not to love?
Of course, if you’re going into this game expecting something action-heavy with bouncy platforming and happy tunes to hum along to as you’re bouncing, you’re in the wrong game and should leave immediately before Vladdy finds out. He’ll just call you mean names and not let up until you split. That, and all the corn will ignore you and run off for a nap while you sit there looking for a “Jump” button. Everyone else, listen to Miss Davis below as you line up, single file for what’s to come:
That, by the way is both good (the game is a hoot) and not good (some technical issues), but we’ll discuss that below. Huddle!
One thing you need to know is this is a game where knowing too much makes things less fun. So if you’re picking this up, get the heck off the internet and go in completely blind. Well, don’t go poking your eyes out, slapping some dollar store sunglasses on or anything silly like that. Just play the game without looking up stuff and absorb everything as it comes right from the beginning when your character wakes up and sees three tall corn stalks scampering away into the distance. As you follow them, you’ll come across a number of puzzles to tackle that require a tiny bit of thought to solve, all with a purpose discovered as the game progresses.
In true adventure game fashion, you’ll need decent reading skills, simple observation and the ability to flip through your inventory to use collected items, combining them when necessary. Initially, your path consists of a slightly confusing cornfield maze with a strange door that requires three items to unlock at one end, closed off paths and a somewhat creepy, cluttered house on the opposite sides. How creepy is that house? Had this been a horror-themed game, that home would be packed with residential evil of some sort. Seriously, if houses had cousins, this would be the Bates House‘s less murder-filled and more cluttered relative. Thankfully, other than some eerie music and a bunch of usable/collectible items, the house is empty and you can’t point at the developer and accuse them of the old bait and switch.
One of the best things about the inventory system is the requirement to read about everything you pick up during your adventure. Inventory items have clues to solve puzzles and Folio items have hints about the game’s backstory. In addition, sticky notes scattered around in certain spots offer up a a running gag between the two scientists as one argues with the other as the latter spends way too much money on useless or dangerous facility stuff. Once you’re in the main facility, meeting and assembling Vladdy is key to completing certain tasks as it’s impossible to proceed without him.
Then again, the game carefully guides some of your movements via strategically placed boxes (there’s actually a story behind that), so it’s almost impossible to get truly stuck. Well, unless you have a terrible sense of direction or get stymied by inventory items because you’re not paying attention to descriptions as well as some obvious combination points that are highlighted with outlines of what’s required. Homing in on all these elements helps the game flow a lot better even with the lack of a map system. Actually, there’s one map in the game “hidden” in plain sight not too far from the area it’s needed in. Protip: If you’re really bad at recalling stuff, I’ll recommend drawing that map out on a piece of paper and doing a test run (yes, there’s a run button!) before hitting that button you need to hit.
Here’s the True Confessions part where I’ll admit I got stuck in three places thanks to the old noodle not clicking properly on that first play. In one area I couldn’t figure out the solution to a mechanical puzzle because I didn’t look at the spot where that item needs to be placed. I did about 20 minutes of backtracking before I let out a “DUH!” upon realizing my first stop was correct. Right before that dopey move, I didn’t realize one not so obvious spot opposite another really obvious one was where I needed to go first to solve another problem. The third time was not the charm because I kept missing a small piece of tape required to REDACTED… Oh, right. No spoilers of note here, folks.
On the presentation side of things, you’ll get nicely done visuals with some not so nice Unreal Engine issues. Textures popping in and/or changing as enter a new area or move towards objects, some lower resolution bits and a general fuzzy look all detract from the otherwise solid graphics. On the other hand, the mushy look makes a weird sort of sense, but you’ll see what’s meant by that if you play the game. The sole oddball glitch I encountered was a tractor seat floating in midair after I backtracked to an area looking for anything I may have missed (I blame Vladdy, but don’t tell him this!). Finally, you may not respect twisting pathways or intentionally bland lobbies after playing this game. But it pokes enough fun at both to the point you’ll grasp the method behind the madness.
Navigation has at least one minor issue thanks to the ability to get stuck moving through a handful of cluttered areas where you may end up behind a bunch of immovable junk before you realize you can’t go any further. The game auto-saves frequently enough that should this occur, all you need to do is quit to the main menu and select Continue, which resets you in a better location with any collected items intact. Despite the issues, I can’t complain about the art direction at all. On the aural front, the music is mostly low-key (save for a handful of amusing sequences when it’s not) and the voice cast is great. There’s also a fun musical surprise at the end credits if you’ve been reading the sticky notes.
While you can complete the game (without a walkthrough, please!) in under five hours, you might not find every Folio item on the first go unless you’re really looking everywhere during most of the 9 chapters. I ended up with 68 out of 75 (oops), but there are plans to pop back in and go for all of them as soon as I get through a few other reviews on the plate here. There’s also a trophy for blowing through the game in under two hours, but that requires an honest playthrough once or honestly admitting you’ve gone and looked up how to do that blowing through stuff. I won’t tell either way if you do, by the way.
Well, would you just look at the time? I think we are all done here other than scoring this puppy. As noted, saying much more would ruin the game’s biggest surprises (including a supremely wacky finale), so I’ll just place my score gently below and scoot out of the room while you’re distracted. Did I mention Vladdy kind of needs his own game, provided it’s not a mascot platformer? He’s too grumpy to do all that jumping, but I hear he’s quite the entertainer in other areas.
Score: B (80%)
Review code provided by the publisher