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