Knee Deep Review
Knee Deep is a story driven adventure game that sees the player trying to piece together the series of events that lead up to the apparent suicide of an actor. As you explore the small town of Cypress Knee you start to realise that things are not what they initially seem. With a plot that features everything from corrupt officials to religious cults and even zombies, those of you who are looking for a unique and well written story would be wise to check this out.
The stage is set – The very first thing you will notice about Knee Deep is that it all takes place not as a normal story, but as a stage play. Set transitions will change your location, walls drop to allow you to see into buildings and actors will be transported to different areas of the set via a monorail style device. At the start of each act you have choices like silencing your phone or grabbing snacks which only help to hammer home the theme of this all taking part as one big production. I’m sure that the story told by Knee Deep could have taken place without any of this happening but it definitely helps make it stand out from the crowd.
A likeable cast – Your time in Cypress Knee is split between three main characters. You have Romana Teague, the internet blogger who is on the hunt for a story to help boost her online popularity. Next up is Jack Bellet, an old school reporter who is looking for the next big story to help his career. Finally there is K.C. Gaddis, a private investigator who you encounter just as he is about to commit suicide. All three of these characters play important parts in the story of Knee Deep but the rest of the cast are equally important. From the major who continually fails to use the correct words in his speeches to the angry ex-wife of Jack Bellet who berates and argues with him at every opportunity, they all help to build a world that makes you want to come back and continue the story.
Razor sharp dialogue – When a game comes along and limits your input purely to controlling the dialogue it needs to make sure that the choices you have are both interesting and varied. Knee Deep fortunately has some very well written dialogue that is also very well voiced by the actors. Each of the three characters you use has a unique option for responding to dialogue as well. Romana can choose to give a strange response (which leads to some of the best answers in the entire game), Jack Bellet can give a belligerent response and finally K.C. Gaddis can say something cynical. The different choices for each character definitely helps you see what sort of personality they have, and for those who are interested in achievements it is in your best interest to only pick a strange, belligerent or cynical answer as you’ll unlock a lot of Gamerscore for choosing those options for the entire game.
Cautious, edgy or inflammatory – One mechanic that Knee Deep introduces that I really enjoyed is the ability to upload a report about what has been happening in Cypress Knee, and choose the tone of how it is written. This can then go on to have an effect and change how people respond to you when you interact with them. Making too many inflammatory remarks may result in you getting short shrift when you try to talk with the townspeople. Being too cautious on the other hand can result in you getting an ear bashing from some of the locals or even your employer. It’s a fun mechanic although it only really appears in act one. Another helpful addition is the signposting of key events. As you approach a pivotal point where you have to make a big decision a warning will flash up on screen to let you know this is imminent. Unlike the other adventure games that are out there Knee Deep doesn’t have an onscreen timer, so you are free to ponder your decision and take as long as you feel is necessary. You’ll also be informed when a decision you have made has had an impact on your current choices which I thought was a very nice touch that made me think a lot more about what choice I would actually make.
A few technical difficulties – Although the vast majority of Knee Deep takes place with you only picking different dialogue choices there will be a few occasions that will need the player to sort some sort of puzzle to be able to progress. The puzzles themselves are all relatively easy and should take no longer then a few minutes to solve, however there did seem to be an awful lot of technical difficulties whenever I reached these sections. One puzzle completely failed to register any input from my control pad, and to make things worse when I paused the game to try and select the main menu option it only resulted in the menu cursor moving at such a fast speed that the only option I had was to completely close the game and reload. A puzzle that requires the player to piece together fingerprints was simple enough up to the point where it failed to load in enough pieces so I was forced to once again close Knee Deep and reload. Every time an issue occurred it could be fixed by simply closing the game and rebooting but it’s still something that really shouldn’t have to be done.
I want to play my way – I mentioned above that Knee Deep has some great dialogue but one thing I was saddened to see was that there are a lot of achievements tied to picking certain dialogue responses. To me it felt that I was being penalised by playing the game however I wanted. I’m all for a game tying achievements to different dialogue choices if it is something minor but to be able to unlock three of the achievements you have to play almost the entire game picking strange, belligerent or cynical answers which I felt left me with a lot less freedom to choose the answers I wanted without having to do a whole other playthrough.
Third time’s not a charm – At key points in Knee Deep you get the opportunity to upload an article to the internet. You can upload a cautious report, an edgy report or an inflammatory report. These unfortunately have also been tied to achievements so if you want to get all of the achievements you’ll need to make sure that you constantly make the same choice all the way through act one. This means that in order to be able to get 1000/1000 you’ll need to do three full playthroughs of act one. Act one is a good 90-120 minutes long so by the time you play it for a third time any appeal it may have had has definitely gone. There are so many wonderful characters and environments in Knee Deep that it feels like a real shame to have such a lacklustre achievement list when they could have instead focused on some of the more unique interactions you have with certain members of the Cypress Knee community.
Knee Deep will definitely appeal to those gamers who are into narrative driven stories and are looking for something a little different. Those who aren’t fans of the ‘walking simulator’ genre won’t be won over as there is very little to do in regards to player input but for anyone else thinking of checking this out I definitely recommend it.
Knee Deep was developed by Prologue Games and published by Wales Interactive. The game released on Xbox One on February 3rd, 2017 and is also available for Playstation 4 and Steam. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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