A Ratings Nightmare
The Maze is the hottest new reality show on television! Pitting a number of contestants against each other in a variety of physical challenges, all for a chance at winning a big prize at the end! And after spilling much blood, sweat and tears, only five are left to participate in the highly anticipated season finale. Who will be the victor? Who will stand superior over the others for their both their prowess and willingness to put up with the nonsense of the Maze?
Well, unfortunately, America might never know, because something happened while filming. The network assures us that “technical difficulties” are merely at work here, but the truth is apparently much darker; all the contestants have disappeared! So in comes you, a private eye, to figure out what happened to the missing people before the public catches on, and does what it always does: sue the network.
Needless to say, The Maze stands head and shoulders over many other adventure games in one area: originality. We’re solving a mystery as a detective, which isn’t unusual, but the change of scenery to a TV studio is a nice breath of fresh air. Better yet, the setting lends itself to putting you through a number of strange and quirky scenarios, including an indoor pool full of piranhas, and a lady’s room where an escaped leopard has made its home. We’ve all seen some bizarre premises for reality shows, but one just has to wonder just what the heck this one was all about.
Unfortunately, originality is largely all The Maze has going for it. The above synopsis is quickly summed up in the animated introduction, but then it just dumps you unartfully into the middle of things. After that, the plot meanders slowly and even has long stretches where it doesn’t move at all.
Perfect for High Definition Television!
Okay, that’s a gross exaggeration, but it gets the point across; the graphics are good, sharp and detailed. There are numerous cutscenes along the way that blend almost seamlessly into the backgrounds, though characters we occasionally see move a little stiffly. A little more awkward is how the style of the introduction doesn’t quite match that of the rest of the game.
The music in general is pretty forgettable. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of it, as the game prefers to take a silent approach most of the time. This can probably work at making thing a little more suspenseful and creepy, except that this isn’t really a horror game, and nothing about it is particularly scary. When there’s some action, such as when your detective stumbles upon a trap, the music quickly picks up, getting loud and energetic enough to bang your head to…but it only lasts for a minute or two before fading out. And there’s only one song of that type, so even it might grow annoying after extended playtime.
Your Usual Adventure
Despite The Maze’s original premise, the way the game plays is really no different from the hundreds of other hidden object adventure games out there. You explore the environment, collect items to help you solve puzzles, play a few minigames, and of course search for hidden objects. Standard stuff overall.
HOGs and puzzles are put together well enough. The odd setting provides plenty of justification for the weird assortment of items you’ll have to sift through in the former. It also knows to not take itself too seriously; one such sequence involves you looking through objects piled at the entrance of a ventilation shaft, of which a live leopard is also situated in, glaring at you the entire time.
Minigames are pretty good. Although we de see plenty of the usual suspects, like the cogwheels and tile-swaps, there are also a few unique takes, such as one where you attempt to crack open a safe by listening to the wheels as you turn them, and another where you figure which wires to connect to which sockets. All have some good instructions as well, so you’ll seldom be left scratching your head in confusion.
Doesn’t Feel Real
One common criticism about reality shows is how they aren’t very “real” at all. The same can be said about The Maze. The inventory puzzles aren’t exactly the most cohesive or well thought out things out there, as they require some incredibly convoluted ways to solve.
For instance, one puzzle involves getting a key out of a locked glass box by using a magnet to unlock it from the inside. This alone doesn’t make a whole lot of sense by itself, but it gets worse by the fact that common sense would dictate just smashing the glass and being done with it. To add insult to injury, the long process of getting everything you need to complete the puzzle involves getting a crowbar and gun, either of which could do that job quite nicely. And sadly, this isn’t the only puzzle with this kind of crazy solution.
And unlike some of the better adventure games out there, The Maze doesn’t really bother easing you into things. In the same way that it dumps you into the story, it also dumps a lot of interlocking puzzles to solve without any obvious way of proceeding. It’s very easy to lose track of yourself, especially since many key details are surprisingly easy to miss. Either pay close attention to your seemingly slapped together journal for clues, or make copious use of the hint button if you don’t want to get lost. It has a recharge timer, as is standard for the genre, but it’s mercifully short.
Stuck in Reruns
But the Maze’s biggest pratfall is how utterly repetitive it is, in more way than one. The aforementioned puzzle minigames, though well-designed on their own, are certainly not good enough to use over and over again. But the game doesn’t know that.
The Maze also has a criminal use of backtracking. You’ll be running through the same screens repeatedly throughout the campaign to solve a few dozen small mysteries; heck, the first hour will be spent on a measly half dozen screens. To The Maze’s credit, it does include a handy map which not only helps you get you bearings, but even allows you to “warp” instantly to any screen you’ve already visited. But even so, there’s no excuse for why we have to go so long without making any real progress.
Conclusion - Fresh Ideas Dragged Down By Annoying Faults
It’s kind of sad. The Maze has such fresh ideas in the genre, things like a different kind of setting and dark sense of humor. It also has a decent amount of thought put into many of its minigame puzzles. But the same can’t be said for the inventory puzzles, which follow a logic all their own. And on top of repetition and overt backtracking, whatever enjoyment had can be quickly killed.
It might be worth a go if you want something that feels a little different stylistically, or if you don’t really mind abusing the hint button. Otherwise, tune in to a different channel.
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
(Game Description, Download, Screenshots, and more)