Knee Deep DEVELOPER: Prologue Games
PUBLISHER: Wales Interactive
RELEASE DATE: January 31 (PS4), February 3 (Xbox One) 2017
Have a seat, ladies and gentlemen, and let me tell you about a little indie game called Knee Deep.
Part mystery, part stage play, this is one strange ride. The game follows the investigation of the suicide of a famous actor in a small town in Florida. As those investigating begin to dig, a chain of events starts to unfold and the story becomes much larger than it initially seemed. But how things play out while those events are unfolding is where you come in.
Knee Deep is described as a “swamp noir,” and begins with a has-been Hollywood actor hanging himself from a water tower in the town of Cypress Knee where he was filming his latest movie. This of course immediately brings a lot of attention to the town. In the game you play as a trio of characters looking into the suicide—a young blogger named Romana Teague, a newspaper reporter named Jack Bellet, and a private investigator hired by the movie studio named K.C. Gaddis.
As you talk to various witnesses and locals, choosing which responses you feel will get you the best answers, you’ll gather information. After enough information has been gained, you then have to do your job and submit a blog post or newspaper article or report. It’s not just your dialogue choices that affect the story; how you choose to report your findings will also alter things. You can play it safe and report just the simple facts, but that won’t get much attention from readers and your editor will not be happy with you. You can amp things up a bit, which is still fairly safe and gets you decent attention, but can also upset certain characters you cross paths with. Finally, you can go all out with an outrageous story that’s sure to be popular with your readers, but will no doubt burn some bridges in the process. One way or another, you’ll have to roll with the choices you make and the responses you get to the information you share.
But the strangest thing about Knee Deep, the thing that makes it so unique, is that none of this is real. And no, I don’t mean it’s not real because it’s a video game—the events that unfold within the game itself are not real. The whole thing is a complex theatrical production.
The story plays out in three acts (it was actually first released over a year ago on Steam in three separate acts, but is just now being released as a whole on consoles), with an intermission between each so folks can grab a snack or hit the bathroom. Plays are long, you know. The stage is massive, a marvel of theatrical engineering, with multiple sets for when the story moves from one area to the next, and multiple sections for when the story moves to another location entirely. When this happens the actor/character jumps on a pedestal that zooms toward the audience, allowing the stage to rotate behind them to another section, and then zooms back so the actor/character can continue on to the next scene. It’s an interesting and memorable way to present a story, and that alone hooked me right off the bat.
As for how Knee Deep is overall, I had a lot of fun playing it. The stage play presentation hooked me early, but it’s all about the story and how it unfolds based on the choices you make. Your relationship with other characters, how they respond to you, and even whether some of them live or die will depend on your choices. I adore games like that. I can’t say for sure how many things can change specifically, but the game notifies you every time something happening was influenced by a choice that you made, and you will be notified many, many times.
Sometimes making these choices can be a little tricky, especially with dialogue. There are instances where you’re asked about something that happened to you, and you then have to answer having no knowledge whatsoever of what actually happened to you. Basically, you sometimes write a character’s past by making a choice in the present, but you won’t necessarily know what you’re choosing until you select one of the options. You’ll also often be giving a simple response to something someone said, but it’s not always clear what exactly you’ll say.
In these cases you either close your eyes and go for it, or, my preferred option, give the alternative response. Each character in the game has a special way they can respond—for the blogger Romana, it’s the “Strange Response”; For the reporter Jack, it’s the “Belligerent Response”; and for the private investigator K.C., it’s the “Cynical Response.” These are a smart addition to the game, adding some amusing and sometimes funny random responses to mix things up. They all have good lines, but Romana’s strange responses take the cake. There’s even achievements/trophies for giving nothing but these alternative responses, so on one of your replays of the game you can go nuts and see how it affects things. Your characters will seem like raving lunatics, but it’ll be a good time for sure.
The story is solid, starting off fairly simple. As you play on and begin to get deeper into what’s going on, it really starts picking up steam. You’ll try to be a good reporter and figure out what’s happening, but there will be some unexpected curveballs along the way, and sometimes things will get downright weird on you (in a good way, of course).
I didn’t know a thing about Knee Deep going in, and just like with movies, sometimes that’s the best way to go in. No trailers, no information, not even an image, just load it up and press play. I’ve played a lot of video games in my days, some with prior knowledge and some without, but I can’t say that I’ve ever played anything quite like this before.