Review: Knee Deep (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC, Mac
  • Oculus Rift
  • HTC Vive
  • OSVR

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Knee Deep
Format: PSN (2.10 GB)
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Developer: Prologue Games
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 12
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Knee Deep is an adventure game with a bit of a twist. The game is built like an elaborate stage play with sets, audiences, and even intermissions. The stage presentation is actually executed quite well if you overlook the fact that this play is way too elaborate to be done in real life.

The story follows three characters: blogger Ramona Teague, local reporter Jack Bellet, and private eye K.C. Gaddis. All three of them find themselves in Cypress Knee, Florida after a high profile actor commits suicide which brings all sorts of attention to the small hick town.

While investigating his death, they uncover that there is more to the story than they think. There is a local government scheme happening and a scientology-like group poking around since the actor was one of their own. It’s a story with a lot of twists and turns that can sometimes hurt rather than add valuable depth.

You play as each character, choosing their lines and making critical decisions that will have an impact on the story. Their individual jobs play a critical role early on as you must report the news according to how you see things based on the interactions a specific character has had.

For example, Ramona works for a tabloid blog and her editor is always pushing for clickbait which Ramona has no issues doing. Jack Bellet on the other hand is an old school reporter with some integrity and while his editor also wants traffic he wants real news too. Meanwhile, K.C. Gaddis sends reports to the studio that hired him so they can get their papers in order for insurance purposes.

… goes off the rails more and more as it progresses …
So throughout the game they have to send reports based on whatever intel they gather and frame those reports in either a cautious, edgy, or inflammatory tone. It’s up to the player which tone they go for and their editors/bosses will react differently based on that information.

With gameplay out of the way, I’ll do my best to describe my feelings on how the story progresses without spoiling anything. The story is broken into three acts since this game came out on PC last year in an episodic format. Luckily for PS4 players all three acts are available in one package.

Act One is a rather straightforward investigation of the death of the troubled actor. Most of the arc is spent interviewing the eccentric town folk and digging deeper into the suicide. I really enjoyed it. Apart from spotty voice acting and writing, I was having fun as the plot thickened. It was not until the end of the First Act that things became chaotic. The last couple of minutes end in a frenzy that left me wanting to immediately jump into the Second Act.

Act Two continues with the frenetic pacing, but goes off the rails more and more as it progresses. The story begins adding way too many layers and the game double downs on the play aspect. The stage play for the most part is gimmicky and it isn’t until the Second Act that the background characters begin acting like they are in a play with monologues and sing songy speeches. You’ll see everything you’d expect from an actual play, right down to the spotty acting, which I cannot for the life of me tell if it was intentional.

… stiff animations and sometimes rough looking character models …
The Third Act just goes for broke and the whole thing just gets much bigger than it should. I went from intrigued to cautious to downright shaking my head over the course of the three Acts. The Third feels rushed, yet despite that, the story continues to throw more and more twists with no regard until it abruptly ends.

Despite the storytelling issues I still enjoyed the game. The main protagonists were relatable and their journey is what ultimately kept me continuing. I was let down somewhat by the Third Act and would have loved if things were a little more simple or they spent more time justifying some of the twists.

Visuals:
The live stage show presentation of Knee Deep is cool if you can overlook the impossibly elaborate aspects. I mean seriously, this would probably be the most expensive play in the history of plays. There are gigantic rotating sets, dozens of buildings that have fully removable walls as well as working cars and boats. It’s a gimmick for sure, but a neat one.

A few things that hold the game back though are the stiff animations and sometimes rough looking character models. Characters move a little funny and could use some more animation. They sometimes look robotic when speaking and float when walking.

The game relies on dark lighting and spotlights to cover some of its flaws, but they are still apparent. It’s a series of noticeable hitches and flaws that can easily break any points of immersion in the story.

Audio:
I have gone back and forth on whether I liked the voice acting. I can’t tell if some of the characters are downright cheesy on purpose or not. I have seen a few plays and there’s always some bad acting which is something I heard often here.

The three main characters are good, everyone else on the other hand is a mixed bag. It’s a combination of poor writing sometimes trying too hard for a pop culture reference, the actors struggling to pull off a Southern accent, and just plain bad acting. Overall the acting is alright if uneven throughout.

… a semi-good yet flawed narrative …
The music, unlike the voice work, is consistently good. It sticks to the setting and is Southern in roots with a nice guitar as the centerpiece. It doesn’t change up much, though what is there fits the world and is something I enjoyed throughout the whole experience.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Knee Deep took a risk when it decided to go for a stage play presentation, and while it comes across gimmicky it works in its favor. I was intrigued early on by that aspect alone and the three protagonists were interesting enough to keep me playing.

If only the story did not fall apart at such a rapid place in the Third Act. If the writing held up I would be shouting the game’s praises on a rooftop. Instead the writing holds a potentially amazing game back and we are left with a semi-good yet flawed narrative.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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