Knee Deep (Xbox One Review)
Knee Deep is a game that follows in the immensely successful footsteps of Telltale Games’ episodic format, where storytelling and dialogue reign supreme. Action takes a back seat as you’re transported to Cyprus Knee, a dingy backwater town in Florida. There’s an instant difference between Knee Deep and other similar games though; Like Super Mario Bros 3, you’re acting out a play.
It’s a pretty clever twist on a genre that’s otherwise bloated with games. You’ll hear the audience react to actions and lines of dialogue, and the actors move around the set, occasionally travelling via a moving platform to an entirely different stage.
There are three main characters to control in Cyprus Knee. The first is Romana Teague, a blogger who goes by the screen name of Phaedra, with a questionably controversial past. Next, we meet Jack Bellet, a local has-been reporter for the local newspaper, chasing one final big scoop to get him back to the top. The third character is K.C Gaddis, a private investigator hired to come back to Cyprus Knee and find some answers about the suicide that brought all three characters together, looking for answers.
A washed-up actor is found hanging from the local water tower, and each character can uncover and report different opinions, facts and stories about him, the church he is in town with, the movie studio he’s currently filming with, and his relationships; both private and public. Regardless of who you’re playing as, you need to frequently submit reports of your findings to your boss. For Phaedra, that’s the editor at Fanrage, the website she blogs via. Jack reports back to an editor as well, at his newspaper, and K.C is working for the movie studio that was invested in the suicidal actor’s latest film.
It’s here that Knee Deep’s variety begins to play out. As you speak to people, you’ll gain access to new Headlines to publish an article about, with ability to choose multiple version of the same story. You can state the cold, hard facts, as you were presented with them. Or, alternatively, you can put an edgy twist on the story, or be outright inflammatory. It’s essentially the same story in any case, but it’s presented in such wildly different ways, and that’s a big part of what changes how the other characters perceive you.
While the dialogue is well written and properly delivered, the pace of the game is very slow. It can be difficult to stay absorbed at all times, especially during moments when the characters are walking across the stage, as they do so painfully slowly. That’s maybe a flaw of the graphics in general, they’re definitely not the focus of the development team, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But it’s an altogether gripping tale of corruption and deceit, with a thoughtful twist and a historied setting. Knee Deep’s characters are likeable enough, from the enigmatic head of The Church of Us, to the disgraced professor who did time for getting high, and sleeping, with a student he thought was 18. While there’s a fair view tropes and clichés, the writing and acting is generally of a high enough standard for me to let it slide. If it wasn’t so slow to play, it’d be a damn near flawless example of how to sell a game based purely on story and dialogue.