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Review: Knee Deep

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All the game's a stage

Though it is most definitely an adventure game driven by narrative, Knee Deep looks more like a stage play than a video game. It tells the story of an actor's suspicious suicide in the quiet Florida town of Cypress Knee, but it does so while pretending it's a live performance complete with rotating set pieces and the occasional soliloquy.

Knee Deep (PC [reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Prologue Games
Publisher: Prologue Games
Released: July 6, 2015
MSRP: $19.99

Over the course of the game's three acts, players control the characters Romana Teague, Jack Bellet, and K.C. Gaddis. Each protagonist comes with their own personalities and driving motivations, but much of the individual characterization is defined through decisions and dialogue choices made by the player.

Romana, for example, is a blogger trying to save face with her editor following a scandal that damn near got her fired. It's up to the player to decide what that scandal was, and if she feels it was her fault or not. That decision creeps back up in dialogue later, and can color the opinions others have about her before they even meet.

Early on, I was able to have Romana side with protestors against an outdated and fairly racist monument. When speaking to those same protestors as Jack, a washed-up and grumpy journalist, I did just the opposite and reacted the way I thought a small-town conservative would. I built up a personality for the three protagonists in my head and was able to let decisions in conversation reflect this. This system does an impressive job of letting players take ownership of these characters as the story unfolds.

Player choice is the driving force behind Knee Deep, but never in a way that will alter the overall narrative. The game itself is very honest about this from the get-go, which silences any post-game feelings of "Did my decisions really matter?" The narrator straight up tells players that decisions they make will only affect the conversations had and relationships developed.

Characters use clues gathered from the town and residents of Cypress Knee to publish stories depending on both their job and, again, the player's own perception of their personalities. The game decides when you write up a post, and you're only able to use one of potentially many recently discovered clues in each post. Picking what to write about is just as important as deciding which tone (safe, edgy, or inflammatory) to take with each publication.

An inflammatory blog post about the troubled love life of the dead actor may make Romana's editor happy, but chances are the guy's girlfriend will be less willing to share secret information if you do. Along with the dialogue system, the blog-writing mechanic is one of the best parts. It’s a shame it more or less stopped showing up halfway through the game.

The system put in place isn't perfect. I'll keep things spoiler-free, but there was a big, life-or-death decision at the end of Act 1. Somehow, when I loaded up Act 2 moments later, the game had forgotten which character I had decided to save. This wasn't an issue when I ran through it a second time, but it was a bit unfulfilling to see one of the most important decisions disregarded like that.

I got caught up on a few other bugs throughout, mostly during the simple puzzle mini-games scattered about, but it was never anything a quick game reset couldn't fix. Bugs suck, yeah, but it looks like the development team is keeping a watchful eye on user feedback and fixing issues as they come up. 

Knee Deep shines its brightest in the first episode. Act 1 is the best balanced of the three as far as pacing and story development go. If it had been able to maintain that same quality throughout later episodes, it'd be an all-around excellent game. Instead, things get a little muddier as it goes on. The plotlines of the three protagonists merge into one during Act 2, marking the end of their superb character development. At this point, you can almost feel the focus shift away from dynamic characterization toward the unchanging plot.

In itself, the overarching murder mystery story isn't bad, it just wasn't as engaging as it could have been if Romana, Jack, and K.C. had continued to interact with the story in their own, unique ways. Knee Deep is still an overall good experience, but it's clear that the final two episodes don't live up to the game's potential.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Knee Deep reviewed by Alissa McAloon

7

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Alissa McAloon
Alissa McAloonContributor   gamer profile

Alissa has been aggressively lurking Destructoid's community events for years. She hates cold pizza, loves Bidoof, and sometimes finds time for games beyond just Destiny, Harvest Moon, or Digimon.  more + disclosures


 




 


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