Knee Deep brings out the visual novel genre, in this episodic murder mystery game. The game was both developed and published by Prologue Games, and offers good suspense to players participating in its noire-esque setting. The game launched in July 2015, and episodes 1 and 2 of the game can be downloaded on Steam here.
The game takes place in the backwater Florida town of Cypress Knee, where a well-admired actor has been found hanging from one of his movie sets. As a player, you have the opportunity to play three characters – blogger Romana Teague, print journalist Jack Bellet, and cop-turned-private investigator K.C. Gaddis. By going through the story line of each of these characters, finding evidence, and asking the right questions, the goal of the game is to ultimately find out the mystery behind the murder that has taken place at the beginning.
Knee Deep is a single-player game, with no online mode. The game gives off a theatrical atmosphere, as the each episode represents the act of play the player is currently both watching, and participating in. The lack of any fourth wall in this game gives a refreshing feel to the usual murder-mystery genre. The game is interactive from both beginning to end, as players have the opportunity to participate in branching dialogue selection, which lets them narrate the play that is currently being unfolded.
Besides the ability to interact with dialogue on-screen, players also have the ability to interact with different mediums as well. Throughout the game, each character must upload reports based on evidence they find through different people and places. The better the evidence, the better the report. An above-average report also depends on how inflammatory the piece is – the more risque, the better essentially. Players have the ability to choose the heat of the report, whether it be cautious, edgy, or inflammatory. And unfortunately, each comes with a price. An inflammatory report may get better praises from your boss, but it is sure to burn some bridges with people in Cypress Knee, depending on the topic. This can get a bit tedious later on in the game, when you want to have good standings with people to obtain good evidence, but are too afraid to write a decent report because of it. In this sense, the game can be pretty strategical as well.
Puzzles are also available to interact with in the game, which can be a bit refreshing after spending a while choosing dialogue for the characters. Once and a while, a puzzle will be necessary to obtain important evidence for the case being solved, whether it be to hack onto an online email, or configure a match for found fingerprints. The puzzles themselves are pretty straightforward, and not impossible to solve. They can appear a bit intimidating at first, but upon playing around with the pieces, you find that when you drag them over their correct area, they become highlighted in yellow. From there, you can rotate them until they’re facing the right way. And voila, evidence obtained!
As mentioned briefly in the beginning, the story of Knee Deep surrounds the mysterious “suicide” of well-known Cypress actor, Tag Kern. After being found hanging from the Chief Roadsides tower, the stories of the three main characters begin. You are first introduced to Romana Teague, a quirky online blogger who suspects there is something more to this celebrity’s tragic ending. After receiving an anonymous tip from a guy named Anonymaus unsurprisingly, Teague begins a full-out investigation. Jack Bellet is the next to participate in this case. Some time after the golden years of his journalist career, Jack Bellet finds himself back in his hometown to solve this mysterious happening. As a print journalist, Jack reconnects with old friends and foes, as he tries to piece together the fragments of Kern’s case. Of course, running into his eccentric ex-wife is on the agenda too. K.C Gaddis is the third playable character. His story is introduced in a gloomy black-and-white setting, which helps portray how he feels in relation to his long-lost career. Once a Hollywood cop on the rise, Gaddis has become a private investigator after some unfortunate events ensued during his past career. Reluctant, he returns to his own hometown of Cypress Knee, hoping to earn some extra cash as well as some excitement on the career field.
Throughout the story it becomes evident that there is more to the mystery than just the tragic ending of a star. As you encounter suspicious figures, such as Gordon Cordray from the Church of Us, as well as those involved with the city council, you begin realizing there may be some other trouble brewing in the town of Cypress Knee.
For those who love murder-mysteries, or episodic branch dialogue games, like anything from Telltale, I advise they try out Prologue Games’ Knee Deep. The game offers countless interactive options, through various mediums, as well as interesting and dynamic characters and settings. The theatrical element of the game gives it a unique twist, as the player will feel like both the script writer, and the audience.
Personally, the game had a few drawbacks. One being that the amount of dialogue interactions can get a bit exhausting after a while. And in regards to the dialogue choices themselves, at times they can be vague. In certain scenes, it is hard to tell what kind of a response a certain choice will illicit. The graphics aren’t incredibly high-def either, but I personally think that adds to the theme of the game. Because the characters seem more like they’ve come out of a graphic novel, it adds something old-school to this murder mystery.
Overall though, I found Knee Deep to be a very intriguing game. I found myself wanting to obtain as much evidence as I could, questioning suspicious characters, and becoming wide-eyed at certain moments. And aren’t those responses mysteries are supposed to illicit? If one thing’s for sure, it’s that I cannot wait until episode 3 launches, so we can get to the bottom of this case once and for all.
Gameplay score: 3.5/5
Graphics score: 2.5/5