The Stage is Set!
I’m in a bit of a pickle with Knee Deep. While it wasn’t the hardest game I’ve played yet for Hey Poor Player, it’s proving to be the hardest game to review. The reason for that is that the gameplay wavered so much between fun, and a significant lack thereof, I wasn’t all that sure what to rate it as.
Let me step back a little bit however and state just exactly what Knee Deep is about.
The world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. That’s the case, literally, for Knee Deep, a game presented as a stage production in which you follow the journey of its three leading stars: Romana Teague (a.k.a Phaedra) the highest read blogger for the website Fanrage, Jack Bellett, the hometown reporter down on his luck, and failed Private Investigator K.C. Gaddis with his trusty sidekick Monroe the Bloodhound. The stage is set in the backwater Florida town of Cypress Knee, and we open on the hanging corpse of B movie star Tag Kern.
From there things only get crazier. The entirety of this mystery is unraveled in a three part act that borders on the insane. Each lead character has their own mysterious connections to what’s happening in Cypress Knee, and those happenings are seemingly endless. A dead movie star, mayoral elections, disappearances, a man-eating gator named Merle on the loose, and at the very center of it all is the mysterious Church of Us manipulating the citizens of Cypress Knee – as well as our key players – to the church’s advantage.
If I’m going to be honest, with all these things happening it’s hard to keep the relevance of everything straight, and I’m loathe to admit that many of the events of Knee Deep seemed shoehorned in simply to give the narrative a bit of extra weight and length and a few were deeply unsatisfying, cheapening the wholesome experience that Knee Deep was managing to scrape together.
However, while the narrative gets convoluted, the gameplay remains very much on point throughout. As you switch between Romana, Jack and K.C. you gather details to help with the reports you’re expected to submit and learn to utilize a few tricks along the way. The gameplay will switch from simple conversation choices to puzzle solving as well as a few game-within-the-game moments that help spice up the “push button to talk” mechanic that the game sports.
Despite its narrative flaws, Knee Deep is full of surprises along the way. The Church of Us, which is introduced early on, has some very questionable end goals that are as unforeseeable as they are amusing, and their allies are endless. From the Mayor to the loveable town idiot, church members (known colloquially as We-ists) lurk in the shadows everywhere. No one is safe, and no one can be trusted.
It’s safe to say that the Church of Us is a real world version of the Church of Scientology, right down to the E-Meter test (an Opto-Meter in the game), which you can take yourself to see if you qualify for membership. (In case you’re curious, I failed miserably.) Passing or failing doesn’t change the course of the game at all, but various interactions throughout the game do alter the narrative as you move through the story, so be careful. As you progress from one act to another the stakes are raised as traitors emerge from the woodwork, allies become enemies, and the death toll inevitably rises.
My overall experience while playing Knee Deep was hesitant excitement. As one might guess, the game is not action oriented. If you can imagine playing a BioWare game, but almost exclusively the parts where you use the dialogue wheel to interact with NPCs, that’s more or less the extent of this game. But of course because the dialogue is central to everything the writing is pretty well done when it comes to character interactions. The story, as previously stated, becomes another matter at times.
Act one started out very strong and I harbored no complaints. Writing reports and being able to pick the spin I wanted to put on them after chatting up townsfolk was very amusing. Romana’s character probably played the closest to my prefered style, the other characters just being a bit too bumbly for my liking. Character interactions are also different based on whom you play. Both Jack and K.C. are from Knee Deep, while Romana is an outsider. This helps the other two get a leg up the plot and assists in letting the player learn more about Knee Deep through them.
Knee Deep follows the standard plot diagram perfectly, however the final climax and resolutions were deeply unsatisfactory. This is where aforementioned story elements start to feel tacked on, and while I was still very invested in the main plot, side stories such as the man eating alligator and the psychological downfall of character Robert Woodstep simply sputtered into endings that hardly weighed on the overarching plot. These people whom the game made me invest in ended up being, as my grandpappy used to say, “useless as buttons on a dishrag”.
The finale was also confusing, as you’re not entirely sure what even happens to Romana, Jack and K.C. at the end of the game. The Church of Us moves on as well, to an unspecified locale in Kentucky evidently having suffered little to no setbacks from their failed business ventures in Cypress Knee which conveniently ceased to exist entirely thanks to the sudden and fortuitous appearance of what I think was a sinkhole. Regardless, at the end of the day Knee Deep’s beginning was stronger than its ending which was pretty disappointing as I enjoyed a great deal of Act One and many portions of Act Two.
Best I can tell, this is the first title released by Prologue Games and the grit does show somewhat, but I still can’t bring myself to say that Knee Deep was a bad game. I’ll say it was an okay game, and the only reason why it went from good to okay was simply the way the story fell apart for me so suddenly. At the end of the day Knee Deep featured great voice acting, beautiful set design, and well written characters that made me feel as though I’d really stepped into backwoods America. I could practically feel the mosquito bites as the crew trounced through the swamps, and I was generally surprised at many of the villain reveals while both charmed and amused at the antics of the Church of Us.
I’ll never be a We-ist, but I think I’d still have to recommend Knee Deep simply for what Prologue Games was trying to do. However, $19.99 is a steep asking point for such a short game. I might recommend waiting until a sale, but I recommend it nonetheless.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Xbox One, PS4, PC; Developer: Prologue Games, Players: 1 ; Released: March, 2016 (PC) January 31st, 2017 (PS4 & Xbox One) ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $19.99
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of Knee Deep given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.