This is, a very strange game.

And yet, not strange in the way that it feels like the developers intended. Moreso, it's strange because it feels like it's at tension with itself, pulled in two very different directions at once. Something that would be ironically tied to the game's internal narrative, if the pieces lined up a little more smoothly, but instead just feels like it's the other way around, as if the tension inside the game is just a reflection of troubles outside.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So, we're looking at Maize today. This is a classic 3D adventure game; less point-and-click, more run-around-in-first-person. (...and-click.) You pick up objects, interact with them, poke at things, reveal more of the story, you know how these work. Your actual premise starts in a classic "wake up in a place with no idea how or why" scenario, though in this one you wake up on an abandoned farm...whiiiich was built on top of a freaky mad-science lab to hide the place and their bizarre experiments.

So right off the bat, your gameplay loop is a lot of solving puzzles by figuring out what things go where, what places you need to be, and generally how to put everything into the right place so that it opens up the next area for you to go into. And all of that is pretty alright. There aren't a ton of "wow, I can't believe they thought of that" type interactions or anything...but considering that you have to put the interactions together yourself, that's probably for the best.

In terms of that strict, core gameplay, it's unassuming, mildly charming, maybe a bit on the easy side if you play a ton of these. The flavor text on the more curious interactables tends to give away the secret, such as one near the start of the game where you have to use a pair of old fingernail clippers to rip a nail out of a wall, so that you can then put it to use elsewhere. The text on the clippers explicitly mentions they're too dull to cut anything, only useful for ripping something out.

But then we get to that tension I mentioned at the start, as soon as we start talking flavor text. Because it almost feels like the environments and gameplay, and then the flavor text and most of the dialogue, were done by two entirely different people.

Let me explain. Between the abandoned farm, the wrecked lab below, and so on, a lot of the environments in the game are, well, empty of other people. And they create a sensation of spookiness, of eeriness, sometimes of downright dread. I'm reasonably sure that there actually isn't anything else in the farmhouse cellar, for instance, but damn if I don't feel like something's going to leap out onto my screen the instant I step in there. There's a hint of humor in the core interactions (the pun in the nailclippers -> nail interaction, for such) but it ultimately ends up underlying a very unsettling place.

Then the flavor text comes in, and spends a lot of its time deriding you as the player (or at least your protagonist), telling awkward jokes, and when dialogue is involved, making almost everyone into idiots.

The result is sort of like if Portal's GLaDOS didn't stick the landing, and instead tried to lean too far into the humor while ignoring the dark undercurrent around you. It all adds up to that tension, to feeling like the game's being pulled in two different directions.

And there are places where some of this works. The lab below the farm isn't just a wreck, for instance, it's an absurd hellscape that ultimately ended up a bloated love-letter to one dimwitted founder's overstuffed ego, while the long-suffering intellectual that was his partner struggled to try and get any work done. It's a cliche, to be sure, but it also lets the humor play with the darker edge, to acknowledge that things are messed up and to give a more solid reason why than "it's dumb and you're dumb for buying into it".

The problem, really, is in the places where it doesn't work. Particularly in the fact that the game's most intense mockery of the player, tends to be in the spots where the player's doing what the very same game has trained them to do: that is, in the flavor text of interactable items. It's one thing to poke fun at the player for doing things that don't make sense within the game's logic, like the classic "there are no easter eggs here, go away" sign in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. But to mock them for the very thing you expect them to do feels a little...offputting, to me.

And this may be another of those times where I'm simply not gelling with the humor. The game's own description says it's "channeling elements of Monty Python", and we all know that I don't tend to get on super well with that comedy sub-genre unless it's amazingly executed.

The flip-side to all of this, of course, is the fact that the central game does what it's doing rather well. And when you strip out the comedy, you have a scenario that's a bit cliche, but well-realized, of the creator's works having taken over and the inmates now running the asylum. A place where you've got to cobble together solutions and try to stay alive, earn the trust and aid of those who are friendly, and just try to be damn sure you don't get cornered up by those who aren't.

Then the comedy comes in, and because it's the Monty Python "everyone is absurd, incompetent, a fool, or all three" type stuff, it just undermines that entire vibe. It's no surprise that the only two characters who really caught my attention were the ones who got to be fairly competent and have more than two braincells to rub together...and even less surprise that those two also make a point of insulting you and showing your hero to be quite dim, just in case you tried to pretend to take things seriously for a few minutes.

And thus, the game lives in tension. Feeling like it wants to be in two places, hit two notes, serve two masters, and because of it can't really achieve the full extent of either side.

But does that make it a bad game? Well, no, not really. Mostly, it just means that we've hit one of those cases where taste applies fairly strongly. Because the game relies so much on its writing, and doesn't quite have a gameplay loop that can transcend the pesky issue of personal preferences.

I'll freely admit that, if you like this style of comedy, a lot of this tension probably isn't going to be there for you. You're not going to read as much "eery spooky" into the opening bits, and you're not going to be blindsided by the gags.

And on the reverse, if you're like me and the humor doesn't quite click...Well then, it depends on how interested you are in the premise, and in feeling out the "eery spooky" that's there.

At the end of the day, the big thing I can say is to know what you're getting into, and make your decisions accordingly. Do that, and the rest will fall into place.