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Knee Deep, Act 1: Wonderland Review

Knee Deep, Act 1: Wonderland Review

For interactive storytelling that’s unsettling, sinister and surreal, it’s hard to do better than Knee Deep


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Genre: Adventure 
Release date: July 6, 2015

Knee Deep is one of those rare games you find that’s like nothing else. This self-described “Swamp Noir” has incredibly stylish presentation and tells a story that’s equal parts spooky, sad, funny and frightening.

Knee Deep‘s main strength is that its distinct point-of-view is immediately apparent. The main menu consists of a twilit truck stop — the kind where nothing good ever happens — as melancholy acoustic music plays. Clicking “start” unexpectedly sends you into a theater facing a red velvet curtain and you’re told “the show is about to start.” David Lynch comes quickly to mind. You’re unsettled, thrown off-balance; you find yourself praying the rest of the game is just as surprising.

Like many noir stories, Knee Deep starts with a death. A fading movie star hangs himself from a small town water tank, and the body’s not even cold before the finger-pointing starts. Questions and suspects arise and it’s your job to investigate them. Instead of one hero, you play three: a blogger for a celebrity gossip site, a small town reporter and a down-on-his-luck detective. This is not only unusual, it allows the story to be told from three points-of-view.

The lion’s share of the puzzles in Knee Deep involve dialog exchanges that you control through the choices you make. All three characters can choose friendly, neutral or hostile responses to situations and people, and those choices affect subsequent events. Compounding this, all three can choose to make Cautious, Edgy or Inflammatory reports (the reporters submit news stories to their editors; the detective submits client reports). Choose to submit an inflammatory story about someone to boost web traffic? Well, you might just pay for that the next time you need to talk to that person.

Along with these dialog puzzles, there’s the occasional puzzle puzzle, but these are very easy and don’t take much to solve. The emphasis is the story, and for good reason. Knee Deep’s story has all the makings of a good suspense movie or a season of True Detective: shady characters, sketchy political deals, snappy dialog, small-town cranks, a religious cult. You can’t ask for more.

In addition to a compelling story that raises all kinds of interesting questions, Knee Deep comes at you with some of the most unique presentation you’ve ever seen. The entire thing takes place on a stage, as if it’s being acted out just for your benefit. Characters auto-move around stage sets, and are sometimes whisked to another stage entirely on a mechanical platform. Admittedly, the more exploratory adventure gamers might not like this lack of control, but really – how entertaining is it to watch an adventure character plod across the screen.

Some players might also not appreciate the overall look of the game. The models are unapologetically simple, and characters won’t win any animation awards. Still, the mood is as thick as day-old gumbo thanks to some fantastic lighting and an incredible musical score. The latter consists of somber guitar (and banjo?) accompanied by a symphony of croaking frogs and chirping crickets and makes you feel as though you’re in the heart of the bayou. While the music is great, the utter lack of voiceover is a disappointment. With such great writing, it’s easy to imagine that a good vocal cast could have done much to up the game’s atmospheric ante.

Even so, Knee Deep is well worth the time and money. Following the episodic trend, only the first chapter is available right now, and this could make some players balk at paying the $25 asking price. While that’s understandable, they should consider that the cost includes a season pass to all upcoming chapters. They should also remember that for interactive storytelling that’s unsettling, sinister and surreal, it’s hard to do better than Knee Deep.

Grade: B+
Spooky, bayou-inspired musical score
Three interesting player characters
Well-written storytelling
Distinctive presentation
– Simple 3D models
– No voice over

System Requirements
OS: Windows 7 
Processor: i3 or equivalent
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/512 MB RAM 
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 2 GB available space


OS: 10.6+
Processor: 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/512 MB RAM with OpenGL 3 support

Hard Drive: 2 GB available space


Neilie Johnson

Neilie Johnson

My love of video games began back in the 80s with my parents' arcade business and took a professional turn when I went to work for LucasArts in 2002. After working on more Star Wars titles than you could shake a stick at, I became a freelance video game critic, a job that more fully enabled my full-on video game obsession.My favorite games are Grim Fandango, The Longest Journey and Deus Ex, which goes to show I love good stories, strong heroines and black leather trenchcoats.

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