Knee Deep Review

Richard Walker

Knee Deep is an odd game. A sharply written 'swamp noir' yarn, Prologue Games' adventure is like a Telltale game but without all of that pesky walking around and having to perform quick-time events at certain junctures. Instead, Knee Deep is entirely about the choices you make during its narrative, albeit with a few simplistic puzzles peppered in here and there. It's good, engaging and enjoyable while it lasts, but strange. Really strange.

Casting you as three different characters all embroiled in the same mystery surrounding the unexplained death of a washed-up actor, Knee Deep energetically flits between each, as they follow their own trail to the same singular point. The weird twist is that the whole story is delivered as a stage play; the most elaborate, impossibly budgeted stage play ever conceived, but a stage play nonetheless.

Scenery rotates into view, walls open and close to reveal interior locations, the stage whirrs and clanks as different pieces are added and removed or you're transported to the next sequence; there's a kineticism to Knee Deep, although it doesn't really seem like anything that wouldn't work without the MacGuffin of being a play. Still, it's something that succeeds in making Knee Deep unlike anything you'll have played before, even if the game can be slightly crude visually, overall it hangs together nicely, its three acts concluding with some pretty neat cliffhangers.

Blogger Romana Teague, down-and-out reporter Jack Bellett and hard-boiled, cynical private investigator K.C. Gaddis are all very different personalities too, each going about their investigations in very different ways. They're not the only offbeat part of Knee Deep, however. The backwater Florida town of Cypress Knee is full of oddballs, each with their own agendas, as the threat of a new development called Golden Cypress looms over the town, a religious cult tightens its grip and an election draws near, while murder, mystery and intrigue unfolds. It's all a bit Twin Peaks, which is obviously a good thing.

Each conversation and narrative beat presents you with three dialogue choices, the story branching off in a variety of ways based on which option you pick. The game always highlights moments when your decisions are being brought into play too, so you know exactly when a previous choice has an impact on events. There's a lot going on in Cypress Knee too, so you'll need to embark upon multiple playthroughs to see everything and bag all of the game's achievements in the process.

That said, Knee Deep's compelling and bizarre story ought to be enough to keep you hooked, as Romana spews her strange responses, Bellett grunts belligerently at all and sundry, and K.C. Gaddis remains cynical to the last. You don't have to play it that way, of course; you could give straight responses throughout. But where's the fun in that? Knee Deep is at its best when you're rubbing up Cypress Knee's locals and authority figures the wrong way, posting edgy or inflammatory reports on your investigations. Or you can play it safe and post cautious reports, but again, it's more fun to ruffle some feathers.

An unusual and uniquely quirky adventure, Knee Deep is a sharply written murder mystery that proves engaging from the opening curtain to the moment it falls at the end. The stage play presentation can seem strange and occasionally jarring at times, but overall, it doesn't detract from Knee Deep's bizarre blend of noirish melodrama and narrative intrigue. Knee Deep is a solid, if somewhat simplistic – from a gameplay standpoint, at least – adventure that manages to pull you into its murky swamp of lies, murder and deception, holding you there to the very end with its off-the-wall humour and well-told detective story.

Knee Deep

An unusual game, Knee Deep is entertaining while it lasts, its offbeat, Twin Peaks-inspired murder mystery taking in some strange twists and turns to reach its unexpected conclusion. Cypress Knee is certainly a place worth visiting.

Form widget
75%
Audio
80%

The soundtrack is suitably bluegrass-inspired, with twanging guitar strings perfectly framing the swampy mystery. The voice acting too is pretty good, suiting each character to a tee.

Visuals
60%

Knee Deep doesn't look particularly great, with a cel-shaded art style, some slightly 'off' animation and odd-looking character models. Still, the visual style does lend itself well to the game's off-kilter atmosphere and storyline.

Playability
75%

Aside from the straightforward puzzles, you can play almost all of Knee Deep with the controller on your lap as you make choices pressing one of three face buttons. It's nice and simple, enabling you to concentrate on making your choices and following the bizarre plot. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Delivery
75%

Comprising three acts, each roughly an hour apiece, you can polish Knee Deep off in about three hours or so. But then you can always go back and try mixing up your choices for different outcomes.

Achievements
60%

Knee Deep's achievements encourage you to play the game in a variety of different ways each time, posting purely one kind of report or responding in one particular way. It's not the way to play first time through, but then this is a list that encourages repeat visits to Cypress Knee.

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