While a little late to the party I recently got a chance to play Knee Deep. Knee Deep falls into that category of game I enjoy so much, a story driven narrative where your gameplay is based mostly on choices. To add something a bit unique to this game it’s set up as though it’s being performed on a stage. Honestly, the “stage” idea was something that I wasn’t sure about, but it was effective in getting me curious.
The story revolves around three different characters as they start investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a young actor. You switch between an entertainment reporter, a PI working for the studio, and an older reporter. While you start looking into why this man would kill himself you slowly uncover a deeper plot involving a cult, and the fate of the entire town.
As the gamer, you have only minor control over where the story goes, however a lot of control over how the characters respond to it. Each character has a default “behavior” type which you can lean into or completely ignore. The young reporter can respond to everything oddly, while the older man can basically go on tirades every time he responds. This goes into the random reports you have to write as each character too. You can play it safe or even be hostile. While this doesn’t change much as far as gameplay is concerned it is nice to see the various dialogue choices that come from this freedom.
Beyond not having a lot of control over how the game unfolds gameplay is limited in its entirety. 90% of the game is simply making choices with only a few random puzzles thrown in. This has become a trend in these type of narrative driven games, and I’m simply not sold on it. I don’t hate it, but it does start to make games like these a bit too passive. I know that the gameplay couldn’t change too much with this game, but a few more puzzles would have made a major impact and helped the game overall. I do appreciate the depth of choices that you can make in this game, even so far as choosing who lives or dies at various moments. However, like many games, ultimately those choices mean very little. You end up in the same place with just a few different things being said in the cut scenes that get you there.
The story itself is a mixed bag. The characters are well developed and there are enough twists to keep you interested from start to finish. However, at the end of the game, it goes off the rails in a way that sort of lessens the experience until then. I feel like it was going for “quirky” and “funny”, but instead just felt… odd. I don’t want to be too harsh on the game, it’s hardly the worst story I’ve ever experienced. I just wonder at the choice for the direction of the ending. Even so, until you hit that point the story is not bad, and there is a general desire to push forward and see it through.
Where the game does shine is its choice in art direction. The graphics are weak, anytime you get up close you will realize that. The game uses a lot of interesting tricks to counter that, however. By making it a play you are for the most part pulled back from the action. It is not enough to trick you into thinking this is a good looking game but is enough to ease the look of it. The play feel also allows a lot of freedom with the use of space as you are on various “sets” while playing the game. What the game does the best, however, is the lighting. It takes the idea of being a noir game to an extreme, and it really helps the overall look of the game. There are a number of scenes where the backgrounds end up looking amazing, and those truly stand out and help leave the player with an overall satisfied feeling despite the weakness of the game’s graphics. It’s a weird blend of “this is not a very attractive game” meets “wow that looked so cool and the art direction is interesting”.
Overall I find myself mixed. The game is not bad. The “play” aspect of it works well, the characters are well developed, there is a variety of choices the gamer can make. On the other hand, the story gets pretty weak, and there is a lack of gameplay elements that could have really helped the experience. It was a small studio, and that perhaps hurt the game a little. But what is there is worth experiencing if you like this type of story driven game. If I had to give a final recommendation it would be to play it, but try to find it on sale.