STAFF REVIEW of Knee Deep (Xbox One)

Friday, February 3, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Knee Deep Box art Although Telltale is seen as being responsible for the modern revival of the classic point-and-click adventure genre, it’s not the only company that is trying to make a mark within it. Other, mostly independent, developers are also throwing their hats into the ring these days, including Prologue Games with its campy Twin Peaks-inspired title called Knee Deep.

Set in a smelly, gator-fearing Florida swamp town, Knee Deep is the tale of three different investigators who find themselves working on the same strange case. The first one – a twenty year-old blogger who calls herself Phaedra – stumbles upon the death of a once popular and bankable action movie star after getting sick of waiting in congested traffic, while the others (an aging reporter and a private investigator hired by the actor’s studio) end up being directed there by their employers.

Although the player’s three investigative avatars start out alone, they eventually come together in the midst of what is a strange and very offbeat narrative. One that manages to combine backwoods craziness with death, political misdoings and a strange, cult-like religious organization named the Church of Us.

What’s unique about Knee Deep – outside of its weird storyline, of course – is how its setting is constructed. You see, instead of being a traditional, third-person adventure game with movable characters, this entire campaign spends its three to three and a half hour-long runtime on one stage. It’s a play, and one that caters to a live audience.

Since things are confined to one stage, and the game’s budget was obviously limited, all of Knee Deep’s playable protagonists automatically move from set to set. There is no player control like you’ll find in one of Telltale’s games. Instead, your only real input will come in the form of button-based dialogue choices. Well, that, and the social media reports/stories that you’ll post from time to time, using an in-game basic smartphone interface.

Although the dialogue options are not up to par with the best in the business, there is some choice to be found. Characters can respond to situations carefully, with intrigue and excitement, or with a rude or strange response should they want to. It depends on the character though, as Phaedra tends to be the weird one, while the men can be more on the rude or gruff side.

The same type of system applies to reports and stories, which can be posted online (in-game of course) in varying forms. If you want to be careful and avoid pissing anyone off, then it’s best to go with the guarded option. However, sometimes it’s better – or at least more fun – to go with something exclamatory, even if it has the chance of angering a witness, or someone else. It should also be noted that the characters’ bosses will comment on your performance, although this is a half-hearted system that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or affect the narrative all that much.

Due to the above, Knee Deep is not a game that someone looking for excitement, or someone who’s looking for control, should check out. It’s a very simplistic game that relies on its odd narrative to create worthwhile intrigue. Thankfully, it does just that, for the most part. That said, if you’re not into slow burn games where what you say impacts what happens later, then you’ll want to pass on this one.

At the very least, there are some puzzles to be found within the game, although they’re few and far between. A few will task you with putting together fingerprints, by rotating different pieces and making them fit together, while others will ask you to link wires together using a template that is somewhat similar to BioShock’s pipe puzzles. Granted, it’s not nearly as good, or as user-friendly.

I always groaned whenever a puzzle came into play, because their user interfaces are both ugly and unfriendly. Fingerprint pieces wouldn’t always fit together like they should, and there was simply little fun to be had with most of the designs. On top of this, the developers made things too idiot proof, by making the screen flash yellow whenever a puzzle piece is in place. As such, you can solve some of them by just guessing and moving the cursor throughout the grid.

Man, is Knee Deep ever slow, though. Few indie games have ever presented me with such a slow campaign to work through, let alone one that is so dialogue heavy. And, while I’m not one to scoff at individuality, with a heavy reliance on dialogue, or just reading in general, it did become too much at times. It was during those moments where I wondered if it would have been better served as a book, movie or TV show.

Thankfully, things did pick up as I progressed through the latter half of Knee Deep’s three act run. Intrigue started to infiltrate the narrative, and the town’s weird happenings started to really pick up. As such, by the time I was done with the game, my opinion had changed quite a bit from when I first started it, during its slow first act. Still, this is not something that I was ever blown away by, nor is it a title that is easy to recommend to most gamers. It’s a niche experience, through and through, and one where player choices may not affect the narrative as much as they could.

Going forward, it’s important to note that, despite taking place on a theatre stage, Knee Deep isn’t much of a visual powerhouse. Obvious budget limitations and independent means have led to a game that looks quite dated in appearance. Characters, sets, and almost all of the trappings almost feel as if they were ripped out of the PS1 era, and that isn’t helped by the fact that the camera is almost always positioned quite far away from everything.

That said, the audio is surprisingly decent, thanks to an eclectic soundtrack and some unexpectedly solid voice acting. The actors seem to have truly embraced the weirdness that is Knee Deep, and have run with it while avoiding going too far with things. Sure, there’s some overacting, but not as much as one would expect, and even when it does appear it fits in as part of the game’s odd charm.

At the end of the day Knee Deep is a unique and somewhat decent niche game that will only appeal to a certain group of gamers. Those who might be on the fence in regards to purchasing it should definitely do their research and watch some gameplay videos before jumping in, because at $15 USD, it’s an expensive proposition as a blind buy. Hell, even those with interest would be best to wait for a sale, given that the current asking price is a bit on the high side for a three hour-long game with limited replay value.

Don't put spoilers in your achievement list. Use secret achievements.

Overall: 6.1 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.5 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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