Knee Deep is not a game that shies away from the fact that it’s more about the story and the drama than about interactivity. In fact, the scenes it depicts take the form of a stage play recounting the events following the suicide of a famous actor in a small town in Florida. While the story is acted out on a stage in front of you, you take on the role of an audience member and a director of the whole affair.
Throughout the play’s three acts, you follow different characters as they dig into the death of the actor and the fallout. Not all is what it seems and in your role as a director you shape the events through how characters respond to each other and the scenarios that crop up. Then, as an audience member, you’ll watch the characters walk around the stage and interact with objects themselves. Player input is at an absolute minimum when it comes to actually taking action within Knee Deep, reduced to feeling more like a choose your own adventure book than anything else.
You’ll have different dialogue choices during conversations, with each of the characters having their own specific response that relates to their personality. Ramona the blogger can say strange things, while private investigator Gaddis is more cynical, and newspaper reporter Jack can be belligerent. Even with that in mind, the different dialogue option prompts don’t really help in working out what a character is going to say. For example, in one scene Ramona was talking to the actor’s girlfriend and I decided to go with the strange response, which resulted in the word Pineapple being uttered in an almost joyous tone before Ramona walked away.
There are so many instances of conversations just suddenly stopping unnaturally and characters walking away that at times it becomes a bit hard to follow a plot thread, or even remember who characters are. Even in the final act, where characters should be firmly established in the audience’s mind, I was still forgetting who certain people were and their role in what was happening. It feels like Prologue Games had so many character ideas, but instead of cutting some out for a bit more cohesion they instead decided to throw everyone in so as not to waste them. When it comes down to it, the old adage of less is more should have been adhered to.
The story itself jumps about all over the place. What starts as a mysterious suicide quickly morphs into a story involving corruption, an organisation that takes inspiration from Scientology, and other outlandish elements that bloat the plot and make you lose focus at times. A good story knows how to evolve naturally, but Knee Deep tries to go so fast it’s like watching a single cell organism evolving into modern humans overnight. It doesn’t even tie up all of the loose ends, with a major plot thread left hanging in a very unsatisfying conclusion.
Aside from the dialogue, the few player interactions are rooted to simple puzzles that almost solve themselves. You literally do not have to think about the solution as most of the puzzles consist of moving a piece until it becomes highlighted to tell you it is in the right place, and then rotating it a bit so it fits. I was hoping for a challenge that required using the clues you might find, but was instead met with puzzles that may as well have not been included at all.
The only real saving grace of Knee Deep is the design. Each scene has different location props and sets, with these changing as the stage rotates. You can almost imagine the stagehands hurriedly putting together scenes while another plays out, just in time for the stage to spin and the new scenery to come into view. The characters don’t just disappear as the lights go out on them, so you can see their outlines either walking to the next scene or off stage.
The voice acting is also pretty decent, but that can only do so much for the lacklustre script. However, they sound a little echoey, as if the recordings were done in a large hall. You can’t fault the music either, which generally fits well with the action on stage.
Knee Deep isn’t an adventure title worth playing, lacking any real hallmarks of the genre. The few puzzles essentially solve themselves, there is very little player participation outside of dialogue choices, and the plot is so bloated with forgettable characters that you lose track of who is who. It seems like the best ideas were poured into the design of Knee Deep, creating a well made digital stage show with voice actors who put in a decent performance. Unfortunately if Knee Deep was a real theatre show I would assume that the final curtain would fall quickly.
Version tested: PS4