Knee Deep takes a SWERY approach to its storytelling, filling the small gameworld of a Florida swamp town with enough quirky characters, odd storytelling techniques, a peculiar framing device, and an ‘out there’ tale, to invoke Deadly Premonitions, to a degree. However, it doesn’t quite commit to the wackiness, and this becomes part of its undoing, resulting in a tale that’s not as gripping as it could be, and character’s that aren’t memorable.
You take ‘control’ of three characters in this three chapter tale of murder and mystery: a print journalist past his prime, a desperate private detective, and a young blogger. Each are attracted back to their hometown after a Hollywood actor commits suicide at the local water tower. However, as the three start independently investigating, they discover some strange and sinister goings on that draws them together as they question townsfolk and search for clues to figure out precisely what happened.
It’s a murder mystery, one that’s not concerned with fail conditions, in fact it doesn’t have any, and instead, no matter the dialogue choices you make, you’ll eventually reach the conclusion, with some unique events along the way depending on your choices. It’s of a similar vain to a Telltale adventure; interactivity is limited largely to dialogue choices, although the occasional, very simple puzzle pops up asking you to arrange objects in the right pattern or crack a code, but don’t expect to do any walking, it’s very much a point ‘n click kind of adventure without that genre’s item inventory and frequent puzzles.
This makes it very easy to fall into a stupor, hammering the face buttons to simply progress the dialogue with little care for the responses you’re actually giving, and unfortunately, despite some twists and oddness, the tale fails to hold your attention for long.
The most prominent cause for that is the bad pacing of the first chapter. It takes its time establishing the characters and location, and feels utterly incongruous when compared to the much shorter, succinct second and third chapters. Moreover, where the oddness in Deadly Premonitions was charming, nostalgia inducing, and omnipresent, in Knee Deep its starts off too shallow and fails to fully immerse you in its world. The two standout oddballs of the cast, the third-person talking Remy and the limited vocabulary mayor, are only touched on in the first chapter, but are far more heavily present in the second and third, making the first feel all the more out of place. Mind you the framing device goes a long way to helping alleviate this identity crisis.
The whole story is told as if it were a play on a rather high-tech stage. Buildings fold up or have their walls and columns shift to present indoor scenes, meanwhile, many of the trees and non-talking characters consists of cut-outs, while painted backdrops make up the sky and backgrounds. It’s a neat and unique aesthetic. It also helps with what are otherwise mediocre visuals. Textures throughout are very simple, as is the colour palette. Meanwhile, the characters are low polygon with stiff, unnatural animation and lip syncing, with the same basic textures and colours. The camera keeps enough of a distance so it doesn’t show up the visual flaws too severely, and the poor lightning fits the theatre theme and helps hide some of the visual flaws, but that in itself is visually off-putting. On the positive side, all characters are voiced, although their voice-overs and scripts are run-of-the-mill. In fact, that describes Knee Deep accurately; average through and through.
There’s 4-5 hours of murder mystery to solve here, and enough dialogue choices to facilitate some replay, but the interesting elements are fleeting. There’s just about enough of a mystery to the town, characters, and of course the murder, to tempt you in, but you’re likely to find the presentation and overall story off-putting. It’s certainly not awful but it’s a long way from being good.