‘Knee deep in what, ex­actly?’ ev­ery­one asks sus­pi­ciously

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START/CONTENTS - Martin Kitts

We’re all fa­mil­iar with cine­matic games, but the­atri­cal ones – well that’s some­thing a bit un­usual, and it’s the premise be­hind this in­trigu­ing in­die ‘swamp noir’. A small-town mys­tery in three acts, with echoes of cult TV show Twin Peaks, it cer­tainly stands out from the choose-your-own ad­ven­ture crowd.

Knee Deep is set in a back­wa­ter Florid­ian town called Cy­press Knee, where a fa­mous ac­tor has hanged him­self from the wa­ter tower. Spaced­out blog­ger Ro­mana Teague is first on the scene, swiftly fol­lowed by bol­shy lo­cal jour­nal­ist Jack Bel­let and de­pressed pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor K. C. Gad­dis, and you get to make di­a­logue choices for all of them.

Of course there’s more to Cy­press Knee than meets the eye, and the ill-matched trio soon un­cover some sin­is­ter go­ings-on with prop­erty deals and a se­cre­tive cult called the Church of Us. Was the ac­tor’s death re­ally sui­cide, they be­gin to won­der...

Stage dress­ing

It’s all pre­sented as a play, with foot­lights at the front of the stage and mul­ti­ple set­tings for the char­ac­ters to act in. It’s a nice con­cept but it feels un­con­vinc­ing within the con­text of this game. Theatre pro­duc­tions make a virtue of the confines of the stage, but in Knee Deep ev­ery­thing is spread out over a vast area. The stage would have to be the size of a foot­ball pitch to fit all of that stuff on it, and in the first act the char­ac­ters fre­quently stand on a lit­tle plinth to be whisked away to yet another enor­mous lo­ca­tion.

Later in the game the plinth idea is aban­doned – per­haps as a re­sult of feed­back, given that this was orig­i­nally an episodic game on PC – and the char­ac­ters some­times walk di­rectly to an ad­ja­cent scene, which is much bet­ter. But the theatre set­ting is still un­der­used, with only some fold­out scenery and very rare seg­ments de­liv­ered to the au­di­ence re­mind­ing us of where we’re sup­posed to be.

In terms of ac­tual game­play, you never get to move the char­ac­ters or in­ter­act with ob­jects. In­stead you choose from three di­a­logue op­tions to drive the scene for­wards, so you can play al­most the en­tire thing with just the A, B and X but­tons. There are also a hand­ful of pic­ture re­con­struc­tion puz­zles, which looked dif­fi­cult un­til we re­alised the pieces lit up yel­low when they were in the right area, and a pass­word puz­zle tells you the so­lu­tion as soon as you start. It’s clearly not meant to be a chal­lenge.

It’s hard to tell what Knee Deep is striv­ing for. The di­a­logue choices come thick and fast, with few seem­ing to make any dif­fer­ence to the way events un­fold. It’s all so su­per­fi­cial, no won­der the game has to flash up a ‘crit­i­cal choice’ alert when you’ve got a de­ci­sion that might make more than the tini­est dif­fer­ence later on. Apart from that it’s gen­er­ally just a choice be­tween agree/dis­agree/char­ac­ter­spe­cific com­edy re­sponse, with the ef­fects last­ing no longer than the sub­se­quent line of di­a­logue.

As an in­ter­ac­tive story it’s not par­tic­u­larly com­pelling. There’s too much filler and pre­cious few good lines beyond Bel­let’s amus­ingly of­fen­sive ‘bel­liger­ent’ re­sponse op­tions. But it’s def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent, and though it didn’t strike a chord, we’ve got to give it some credit for forg­ing its own path through the resur­gent graphic ad­ven­ture genre.

“De­spite be­ing an in­ter­ac­tive story, it’s su­per­fi­cial and packed with filler”

right The graph­ics are dread­ful and the voice act­ing sounds like it was recorded in a closet. Hey, come back!

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