Knee Deep from Prologue Games
Like Twin Peaks and True Detective, Knee Deep sets out to tell a small town mystery where the setting becomes a key element of the story. Presenting as a stage play, it’s a game that plays like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, which lends to its VR support.
Choices are made through dialogue that determine how conversation flows and how some events play out later on, with some puzzles between scenes. After playing many Telltale games, players should be familiar with this style. However, with no movement controls given and more emphasis on dialogue choices, the main plot takes center stage over character development.
The story is much more style over substance. It definitely contains great writing but is mixed with less than subtle metaphors and some very questionable racial representation. The major story beats are fun, and most of the reactions that players can choose from are amusing snarky responses. Overall, I commend the writers for trying to tell a mystery in the style of Twin Peaks, though the final product does not reach those lofty goals.
There are three separate acts, each with their own unique locations and associated new threads to follow. The game begins with the curtains raising on a grisly suicide scene of an aging celebrity, Tag Kern, in the small town of Cypress Knee. The player assumes the role of three separate people investigating the death: Romana Teague, a blogger; Jack Bellet, a newspaper reporter; and K.C. Gaddis, a private investigator.
Playing as these characters involves participating in monologues and dialogues through the changing scenes on the stage and solving some simple puzzles to advance the story. There are several points throughout the story to report back to your employer to keep them up to the minute on news surrounding the plot. These stories can range from “Cautious” to “Inflammatory” to risk reputation for rewards.
Between each scene, there are great transitions as the characters are whisked between constructed sets that rotate on the stage. The best visuals come from the environments, lighting each to fit the mood of the overall game. Similarly, the sound design is great for setting the tone. The music is noir-influenced with a southern twang, and the voice acting is superb. The character animations are serviceable, but not overly terrific (if they even load correctly), with most of the emoting done by the great VO actors.
A Sleeve of Influences
Full disclosure: Twin Peaks is one of my favorite shows of all time. When handed something that compares itself to the show, I’m always skeptical but hoping to be impressed. Knee Deep rarely captures the magic of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s ‘90s television show. None of the characters feel as well defined, and the parts trying to mimic the “random weirdness” associated with Twin Peaks don’t have the artistic flourish found in the early episodes of the show.
There are a few character choices that don’t seem congruous with the initial design or with the option to choose your dialogue options. For example, Romana sometimes just says mean or nonsensical things, which don’t further story and clash with how I tried to play the character. Furthermore, some of the more egregious examples of this had very little bearing on relationships with other characters or further events of the game.
Damn Good Try
Overall, the writing fairly is well done, with only a few noticeable lapses in the punchy dialogue and sarcastic pop culture references. There are some incredibly cliched depictions as well and some weird digs at Canadians that don’t seem to fit. It also tries to emulate the supernatural oddities found in Twin Peaks and True Detective, but even at its best it comes across as weird for the sake of being weird. Ultimately, the story feels like it pulls away from its mystery roots, leaving its audience befuddled at some key moments.
Knee Deep mostly pulls off its noir-tinged story, but there are plenty of bumps along the way. The cringe-worthy moments overshadow the many signs of greatness. There’s a lot to commend about its ambitions, though. Like many B-movies, the good moments are just that: good, without excelling beyond that. Similarly, there’s nothing downright awful. It’s very middling, with some great presentation ideas. If you’re in the mood for a riskier story than what Telltale typically offers, Knee Deep is a decent journey.
Knee Deep is available via Steam, The Humble Store, and the developer’s website. Coming soon to PSN and XBox Live.
Watch the official trailer for Knee Deep below: