Tag Archives: Mystery

Knee Deep review

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thanks to Xbox and Prologue Games for supporting TiX

Firewatch review

Watching out for smoke and fires in the wilderness of Wyoming might not sound like the most exciting game, but when trouble lures you from the safety of your watch tower, things take a turn for the interesting…

It’s a lonely life up in the watch tower, your only company is a lady called Delilah – who chats to you over the radio – so what would drive a person to take a job of such solitude? The game begins with the lead character, Henry, en route to his new place of work. Flashback scenes let you read about his past allowing you to fill in the blanks with multiple-choice answers. It’s a great touch, making Henry’s past feel personal to you.

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Armed with a map, compass and backpack, you venture out to explore the area of the Wyoming wilderness that you’ve been assigned. Several supply caches are spread across the area containing various items. Primarily they are a source of information that you note down on your map. As you explore you talk to Delilah about what you discover – often she pries into your past and why you took the job.

These often touching moments shape their relationship – it’s a great relationship too. Starting slowly as strangers you experience how the two bond over the radio as their conversations become playful and almost intimate. As you explore the wilderness, the simple life of a lookout turns quite sinister, which made me question Henry’s relationship with the mysterious Delilah. It’s your own perception of this – and the story – that will ultimately decide how you perceive the ending, which is a bit hit-and-miss.

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During the game Delilah asks Henry to perform several tasks, which aren’t too complex or cheapened with a clumsy mini game – the game is focused firmly on the relationship you build over the radio and the experience of exploring the world with your new friend. The world is crafted neatly, hiding areas until such a time that the story reveals them to you. Stop for a minute and you will realise that it leads you by the hand using smoke and mirrors to hide the fact it’s actually quite a linear path.

The art of the game is painted in a watercolour wash, creating sinister shapes, which heighten tension and contrast with the soothing colours of the game’s palette. Unfortunately, there are some minor graphic glitches, such as grass clumps that pop in, which was rather annoying, but overall, the environment looks like a painting in an art gallery. It’s a bit of a shame there wasn’t more life in the world, however. Beyond some scripted encounters there is a lack of wildlife – odd that a national park should be so devoid of life – and bar one or two encounters, you won’t meet anybody wondering through the wilderness.

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If you’re a fan of walking sims then there’s a real kick to be had from Firewatch. The story and relationship of Henry and Delilah reeled me in, while the change in perception of my environment played on my own fears – what was once a safe area soon became a place that I was afraid to venture out in – convinced there was someone behind me.

The ending can seem rather flat if you just sit back and accept what is being served to you, but there are lots to speculate about with plenty of plot holes, that I assume are intentional to make you question the story should you spot them. Some may feel short changed by the ending though; it builds well into a state of flurry only to just stop. For me, nothing is as it seems and I still question the events that I experienced.

Once you’ve finished the story there’s a director’s cut version to experience, complete with scavenger hunt, bonus secrets and extra information about the game. There’s also a day/night free roam to explore loaded with even more secrets to discover.

If you like a good story then Firewatch is well worth checking out – it’s one of the better walking simulators that I have played, even if the ending is a little hit-and-miss.

Thanks to Campo Santo and KOEI TECMO for supporting TiX