Growing up I absolutely loved choose-your-own adventure novels. I think it was the ability to make the story progress exactly the way that you want and your imagination could run wild. We’ve seen quite a few iterations of the choose-you-own genre in gaming over the years, but Knee Deep does it in a way that brought me back to those days of turning the pages. It is more focused on story and dialogue rather than visual pop and quick time events. Prologue Games and Wales Interactive have found a formula that works well.
Knee Deep starts off with the apparent suicide of a washed-up movie star at a truck stop in Florida. This event brings together your three main characters: Romana Teague (an online blogger), Jack Bellett (a newspaper journalist), and K.C. Gaddis (a private investigator). You will play each character throughout the game and make their choices for different actions, as well as dialogue, which can lead to progress in your investigation or the death of a character. Along the way your protagonists encounter conspiracies, small town gossip, and plenty of interesting supporting characters. Knee Deep culminates in an explosive finale that you’ll want to be sure not to miss.
“Knee Deep culminates in an explosive finale that you’ll want to be sure not to miss.“
Prologue Games presents Knee Deep in a manner that is very different from any other game that I’ve played in the choose-your-own genre. The player is made to feel like they are an audience member at the theater. The lights go down, you hear the voice of the narrator setting up the scene, and the spotlight is shone on the character that you are currently playing. When switching between scenes the lights go down as the spotlight follows your character to the next scene. I personally like this approach because it allows the player to focus on each scene and its dialogue, rather than the filler of walking around or directing your attention toward unimportant details. It really gives the player the best direction as one would expect from a show at the theater. As your character moves from location to location, walls will open up revealing conversations and the next scene that will take place. I really like this approach because it felt like a real performance on stage that is being viewed from a single angle. Another aspect that makes you feel like you are in the theater is the sound of the audience around you. Although it was reminiscent of classic mystery theater, I found some of the “oohs” and “ahhs” coming from the audience after something significant is revealed a bit distracting.
A choose-your-own dialogue type game such as this is nothing if it doesn’t have a great story to back it up. Knee Deep succeeds on many levels. First of all, the characters that you play are truly believable. The cheeky blogger who is young and care free about her job and life. The washed up newspaper journalist who is divorced and constantly at odds with his ex-wife. The private investigator who feels he has nothing left to live for. Every single one of these characters has their own personality that is visible throughout the game and through each dialogue choice that you make. Games where you can make dialogue choices to progress the story can sometimes come across as non-fluid or disjointed, but Prologue Games did an excellent job weaving the dialogue into each situation. I played through the game three separate times, each time making different choices, and I was impressed by the multitude of dialogue from the playable characters and the reactions from the non-playable ones. The dialogue choices were quite vast, but beyond giving you the ability to find a piece of useful evidence or the occasional life choice, it did not change the overall story-line, but rather it changed how characters react toward you. I will say that the choice of voice actors was quite good. Some of my favorite scenes included some ridiculous recurring side characters like Remy Dixon who always has useless trivia to bestow or the town politician that constantly mixes up his words. I also loved the dog! I hope he comes back for a sequel. The overall story was interesting from start to finish and surprised me on several occasions. It was full of conspiracy, murder and small town gossip and an overarching mystery that keeps you guessing until the end. The noir atmosphere almost made you feel like you were in an old-timey detective mystery. I really enjoyed the satire of certain Florida customs and establishments; from the gas station/motel/diner (that I feel like you see off of the highway from the Carolinas all the way to Florida) to the gator attractions. Much of the humor about Florida was subtle, but there were definitely times when it was just ridiculed outright.
Visually Knee Deep is nothing to write home about, but it did not detract from the overall experience. Character models and animations were very simple and the environments were fairly bland, but the Florida setting as a whole was an important piece of the storytelling. The story and the dialogue is what truly stole the show.
Knee Deep suffered from a few technical difficulties, but nothing that really took away from the game as a whole. There were a few scenes where the animations were jittery or the framerate dropped causing it to move sluggishly. At one point I had the game freeze entirely where a character was supposed walk onto the screen, but never showed up. Probably the most frustrating technical difficulty I had with the game was extremely unreliable menu navigation. When you press the Options button it brings up a menu where it was close to impossible at times to choose the menu option that you wanted. Regardless of whether I used the joysticks or the D-pad, it was as if all the movement between options was completely random.
The act of playing Knee Deep was very simple. You do not have the ability to move your character freely at any point during the game and moving forward only requires pressing the buttons that correspond to your dialogue choice. One thing that I found a bit refreshing was the fact that your dialogue choices were never timed. I felt like I had the ability to read through each dialogue choice and truly mull over my options before moving forward. One of the most interesting pieces of the game is each character’s ability to write a report based on information that you’ve gathered and the player’s ability to put a “spin” on the the way it is written. Each report can be written with a “cautious”, “edgy” or “inflammatory” tone which in turn will decide how other characters in the game react to the protagonist. This is definitely a mechanic that I haven’t seen before and it works very well with the story integration. The game is broken up randomly by little puzzles or mini-games. Puzzles are completed at certain parts of the game to help you get access to something that will help you to progress. In the first Act of Knee Deep you are able to take something called the “Opto Test” which is used by the religious sect to determine your worth to society. You answer a bunch of questions and a gauge tells you whether your answers give you higher or lower Opto levels. The Opto levels were definitely reminiscent of real life religion Scientology.
The trophy list for Knee Deep consists of a total of 44 trophies and will require at least three partial plays of the game. The second and third playthroughs are much shorter, but will require you to complete reports in a certain way. There are several instances in the game that will require the player to to make a choice and there will be a trophy associated with each separate choice. Most of the trophies are easily attainable and can be achieved through normal gameplay. Some of the most difficult trophies are the ones associated with the Opto test that require the player to take the test and receive a certain result at the end. There are save points located immediately before each test you take, so you can quit out of the game and reload to go through that section in quick succession. The trophy I had the most trouble with was the Ascensitized Nature trophy. Unfortunately there is no chapter select, so you have to be mindful of the trophies you need on each of your plays. At the time of this article I am one trophy away from the platinum, but it will only require me to write reports in a certain way.
“Knee Deep is one of my new favorite games of this genre.”
Knee Deep is one of my new favorite games of this genre. Although not visually spectacular, the storytelling and the player’s ability to influence reactions kept me constantly interested and intrigued. The dark, swampy Florida setting and the quirky Floridian characters played a huge role in shaping its enjoyable humor and mystery. The way the characters and the events were presented to the player was refreshing and I would be happy sit through another performance brought to us by Prologue Games. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys the
Review based on PS4 version
Also available on Xbox One February 3, 2017