No one paid the backwater Florida town of Cyprus Knee any attention. At least, not until has-been actor Tag Kern is found wearing a fetching rope necklace on the town’s water tower. Now Cyprus Knee is playing host to religious fanatics, movie studios, shady politicians and more. If Knee Deep, the latest game from Wales Interactive and Prologue Games, sounds like the plot to a weird stage show, that’s because it is.
Knee Deep’s premise involves a theatrical production acting out a classic “whodunnit”. You act as the director controlling one of three protagonists; popular blogger Romana Teague, newspaper reporter Jack Bellet and private investigator K.C. Gaddis. Instead of moving them from place to place, you decide and influence each character’s backstory and relationships with the people of Cyprus Knee. You also periodically write reports based on the facts each character has obtained, with the option to give it a cautious, edgy or inflammatory spin.
Fundamentally it plays out like any Telltale style game, with dialogue options affecting how the narrative progresses. The game starts with each of the main protagonists being drawn to Cyprus Knee for one reason or another, so they can begin their own investigation into the circumstances surrounding Tag’s untimely demise, but as the scenes progress, you begin to understand more about what’s really going on.
It would be somewhat unfair to call Knee Deep a game though. As mentioned above, you don’t control the characters actions for the most part, only the dialogue choices they make. Essentially, Knee Deep is 4 hours of pressing the A button to unlock plot. Despite that, the narrative is quite well paced, with momentum and drama building with each act; twists and betrayals revealing themselves at every turn. The protagonists themselves are all fairly likeable too, and you’ll be invested enough in their story to care about their fate and that of the town. Plus, the game allows players to give nothing but snarky retorts and flamebait news reports, which is hilarious in and of itself.
But this swampland noir isn’t without fault. There were a few glitches, such as no dialogue being played when you select an option, dialogue then being played over the top of actions which indicate that character should be silent, and the curious case of a hostage taker running around in circles spouting threats because their A.I. pathing decided to throw a wobbler.
For a game built around its story and premise, that’s also where the biggest flaws reside. Firstly, the stageshow concept is one that doesn’t get as much playtime as it should. You do get a revolving stage and sets which fold away to reveal building interiors, but it just feels like a way for the devs to save time and money on rendering an entire Florida swamp town. Perhaps some stagehands sweeping away props between scenes, or a little more audience participation than a couple of shocked gasps would have been ideal.
Also, whilst the pacing might be solid throughout, the direction the plot takes veers far off the rails towards the end of the game’s third act. Without spoiling anything, the overall tone and atmosphere of the first act; one of paranoia and mystery, are far removed from the absolute lunacy experienced at the ultimate climax.
Still, the nature of the choices you make along the way, and the short-ish run time lends itself well to multiple playthroughs. The lack of character control or interaction with your surroundings might be displeasing to some players, and the game doesn’t take full advantage of the stageshow concept it champions, but it’s certainly not an opening night flop.
Knee Deep is available right now on the Xbox Store for the regular price of £11.99, though a special 20% discount is available for the next week. Check out the launch trailer below.
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An intriguing trip to the swamp hampered by some missed opportunities
Knee Deep is an enjoyable experience for anyone looking for a quirky and often times absorbing narrative. Unfortunately, it’s hard to not come away from it without thinking it could have been ever better.