The red curtain rises from around a circular stage that lifts and spins on some kind of automated machinery that would make the animatronic Tomorrowland ride at Disneyworld explode with envy. The narrator welcomes everyone as you sit in the audience with a playbill in hand and control the actors throughout a complete three-act mystery.
The production begins in the little Florida town of Cypress Knee, where a washed up actor is found hung off of the town’s watertower, a sad end to a sad career. Romana Teague, a famed blogger for a celebrity fan site, avoids her boss as she drives to the town to report the scene. Jack Bellet, a print reporter for a dying newspaper, leaves his son with his ex-wife for the night as he starts looking for a scoop. And KC Kaddis takes on a job just when he is at the end of his rope that leads him back to his hometown with his trusty dog Monroe.
Controlling each of these characters, players explore the town and interview inhabitants of Cypress Knee as they search for answers and newsworthy material regarding the actor’s death. But all is not as it appears in Cypress Knee, a fact that each investigator quickly finds out within the first Act. But when it comes time to decide what to write about, each of them has to decide to focus on either the story that people want to hear, or the truth hidden in the swampy outskirts of town.
Playing through Knee Deep is almost like watching an actual staged production, although real stages wouldn’t easily allow for the size and increasing detail these scenes offer. Each set and scene is well thought out and seems to use techniques that could work on a real stage with a lot of equipment. It felt like I was really in the audience, watching everything as it happened. The only time that slows down is when mini-games pop up, providing a break and a small puzzle to work through and get to the next scene. For me, it felt a little grating as Knee Deep has its own compelling mystery to contend with.
That being said, players shouldn’t expect to get a whole lot of freedom of movement within the plot itself. Instead, each character’s quirky nature and interactions affects certain branches within the main story as they struggle to understand the truth behind the mystery in Cypress Knee. Players do have a great deal of control over what narrative the characters choose to write about in their articles, and even what kind of spin they put on the story. Each blog post or article can change quite a lot depending on what questions are asked, and how different people within the story feel about each investigator. Being belligerent as Jack Bellet is all well and good, and maybe even deserved, considering the crummy state of his life, but it’s not going to win over any points from other people in town and might even lead to having little to nothing to go on when it comes time to write another post.
The different blog posts, articles, and investigative case reports that each character writes can be spun with either a cautious and boring tone, edgy and opinionated, or outright inflammatory. It’s important to note that each article published will affect other characters within the town and the story either negatively or positively, depending on whose words are twisted and the type of focus Jack, Romana, or KC choose. The story can also affect how they are treated by their respective bosses, most of which have a bit of an axe to grind with their employees for different reasons. Choose to placate the masses and keep your boss happy, or risk it all as you shine a light on an unfortunate truth.
There are many unique characters to this story, ranging from the eccentric people of Cypress Knee, to members of the Red Eclipse production company, to the very strange leaders of the cultish Church of Us. Each of them sports an excellent voice actor as well as an intriguing script, and a mystery can take a few playthroughs to fully understand, connecting dots between clues and key pieces of dialogue that might go unnoticed the first time. Yet even in each replay, the story drives players forward, and different choices open up new avenues to explore. It’s not difficult to see which choices matter more than others, as a warning will appear that notes an upcoming critical choice, one that tends to at least slightly alter the way a story will end.
When there isn’t a mini game slowing it down, Knee Deep tends to push players to make decisions they otherwise might not normally make. It feels far easier for the player to keep their head down and follow the rules in order to stay within the good graces of their employer than to take the moral high ground. And in this game, it can be easy to see that some things do not deserve to remain within the status quo, like a roadstop motel and diner that uses old-fashioned and culturally insensitive Native American imagery. This was a bit of a challenge for me as I typically tend to play games in a careful manner, taking actions and making decisions that usually don’t ruffle feathers. The opposite is encouraged here, telling the player to throw rules out the window and write the news that the people need to hear, even if it’s not what anyone wants. It is aggressive in the way that it tells the story, using characters with varied extreme perspectives on the same topic. It put me out of my comfort zone, but I still enjoyed myself just as I would at a stage play. It feels easy to connect to each of these characters as they struggle with their own uncertainties, and ultimately decide whether to speak their minds freely or not.
Knee Deep is an excellent game for many reasons. It has a fresh narrative style with a wonderfully interesting script; it comments on much of the human state of social media and the devolving world of journalism; and it keep players glued to the screen as they try to solve the mystery of Cypress Knee before it’s too late. I wholeheartedly recommend this game for anyone who loves a good story, or for anyone who loves to see stage plays. This game stands apart from many of the storytellers that exist, and I can only hope that we’ll see another title from Prologue Games very soon.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PC