First Impressions: Knee Deep

So far, Knee Deep is a game whose depths I’d like to continue to delve into. Developed by Prologue Games, Knee Deep involves players in a classic small-town mystery story. It’s a tale of murder, intrigue, and corruption, and it all begins with a suicide. Something’s rotten in the town of Cypress Knee, and it’s up to us to wade in and get to the bottom of it.

What I played: Knee Deep is an episodic game in three acts (aka episodes). Currently, I’ve played through the first act.

The story of Knee Deep unfolds as we follow  in the footsteps of our three down-on-their-luck protagonists: Romana ‘Phaedra’ Teague, Jack Bellet, and J.C. Gaddis. Something that struck me right away is how each of these characters really are distinct characters with their own personalities, something I admittedly wasn’t expecting when I first started the game. Instead of following a bland avatar, I felt like I was getting a peek into the lives of each of these people. For example, Romana Teague is a blogger for an entertainment news site called “FanRage”. She’s made some mistakes recently and is now just one slip-up away from losing her job. You wouldn’t know it from her attitude though, as it’s immediately apparent that she’s an awfully cynical person. She writes off trouble as a joke, and takes any amount of success with a grain of salt. All this was gleaned from watching her do her work and interact with the NPC’s; none of it was overtly spelled out. This is true of the other two protagonists as well, though currently I think Romana is the most fleshed out. Knee Deep even provides the opportunity to influence these characters a little bit. So far, there have been a few occasions where I got to help define each backstory (like the what Romana’s big ‘mistake’ was). Those choices don’t really influence the characters’ current attitudes (from what I’ve seen thus far), but I feel like they helped me get into their heads and see them as people rather than avatars. These are definitely people I want to learn more about!

There’s not much I can say about the story without spoiling it, so let’s just say that there are enough twists and turns to keep you playing. What I can talk about is how this story unfolds. Knee Deep reminded very much of a TellTale game, in that the primary gameplay is in navigating conversations. There’s a lot of talking in Knee Deep and most of it is there for you to gather information about the various people and circumstances you find yourself confronting. The system is not as complex as those found in TellTale games, but it’s enough to keep you moving forward. I must also mention that the illusion of influence was a bit thinner here when compared to similar games I’ve played. I found that many of the normal conversation options didn’t really influence the flow of the conversation all that much. In fact, many of the NPC responses felt as if they had outright ignored what my character had just said. Indeed, the people of Cypress Knee tend to let a lot slide. However, there are also many critical conversation choices that will have influence over the course of the game. The immediate effects were slightly different dialogue when compared to other options, but there were also long term effects as well. I’ve already had NPCs react to me differently depending on some of the choices I’ve made. I don’t feel like I’m influencing the story all that much, but I do feel like I’m changing how my characters are going about navigating it, and that’s made a big difference! So far, the biggest reactions I’ve seen have come from the ‘articles’ and ‘posts’ I’ve made as each character. One in particular even made my job harder, as it turned the local police force against me. Overall, it’s a thinner illusion than what I’m used to, but when it works it works well.

Something else I’ve been enjoying about Knee Deep is its presentation. It’s not the prettiest game on Steam, but I’ve found that it really doesn’t matter all that much here. See, Knee Deep is presented within the game as a stage play, and everything about the presentation is designed to reinforce that. Each scene is framed in a way reminiscent of a play. All of the objects and buildings look a little bit fake, and less detailed than you would expect, as if they were stage props. In fact, whenever a character enters a building, the wall is removed in some way (raised up, sunk down, dragged away) as if a stage crew were moving them out of the way. When a characters sends a text, it’s shown on a big screen behind them so that the “audience” can see the conversation! My favorite detail is whenever the location changes in the story. The character steps on a platform, gets zoomed out the scene (off the stage and toward the audience) and the entire stage rotates to the next scene! I absolutely love this, and I wanted to make sure to give Prologue Games their due credit for it! Visually, Knee Deep is very obviously an independent game, but this theme and method of presentation uses this and turns it into a strength.

I really want to recommend this game wholeheartedly to anyone that enjoys games that are heavily story-driven, and especially to fans of mysteries. However, I have to mention that I did have some technical difficulties while trying to play it. I’ve only experienced one outright crash so far, but I have also experienced frequent display driver crashes. I’d be playing the game, and the screen would just freeze. The game would still be running (based on the sounds and music playing) but the screen was now static. I’d say it was my machine (it still could be), but I’m able to play the likes of XCOM 2 without issue so I think that there’s something else going on here. These freezes happened often enough that I did not progress as far as I otherwise would have. So if you’re interested, please be aware that this might be an issue.

As far as the game itself goes, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played thus far and am looking forward to seeing just how deep the rabbit hole goes! The game has its problems (beyond the technical ones), like some scenes dragging a bit too long and such, but overall it’s been a fun and interesting experience. Check it out!

Knee Deep is available on Steam for $20. You can find out more at the game’s official site, linked right here.

Image captured by Hatmonster