Knee Deep review

All the Game's a Stage

Reviewed on PC.

In Act II, Scene VII of As You Like It, Jacques, a nobleman who lives in the Forest of Arden, recites an illustrious monologue to Duke Senior: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts, / His acts being seven ages.” Melancholy Jacques (as he is called by the other characters in the play), replies to the Duke Senior’s observation of his unhappiness. Frustrated with life, Jacques goes on to compare the world to a stage and life to a play, claiming everyone has a specified role to fill, and whether our parts are played sufficiently or not, we will take a bow out. William Shakespeare wrote a comedy with some tragic elements in it, and Prologue Games seem to have adopted this with their first game, Knee Deep.

Florida life is rather eccentric; humid and muggy, but quaint nonetheless. Filled with beaches, a plethora of exotic wildlife, the occasional alligator or two, and jet skiing on the vastness of the blue ocean surface, Florida is the epitome of tourist-ness. Every local wears a button-up, khaki shorts, and boat shoes; a sunhat, dress, and flip-flops; or a bathing suit. From Jacksonville to Miami to Orlando, Florida has a lifestyle for everyone who visits; Fort Lauderdale and Disney World alone bring in tens of thousands of people from around the world to take in the sights and attractions. Sadly, not all of Florida is pleasure and sunbathing and affluence: tragedy and despondency permeate the darkness of Florida’s pockets. Cypress Knee, a fictional locale created by Prologue Games and the setting for Knee Deep, is plagued with mystery, cloaked in corruption, tinged with death, and reeks of betrayal.

Life in Cypress Knee is quiet enough. The birds chirp, the seasons churn, the cars honk their horns in an orchestral uniformity, and the locals saunter to and fro work. Contemptuous blogger Romana Teague, washed up reporter Jack Bellet, and sardonic private detective K.C. Gaddis are all going about their sullen lives until the suicide of Tag Kern, mediocre-turned-terrible down-and-out actor, plunges the city of Cypress Knee into chaos. What begins as a tragic tale of a popular actor taking his final bow spirals out of control, metamorphosing into a story about a corrupt government looking to catapult the city into a new age using any means necessary.

A tragic tale of an actor committing suicide quickly turns sour.

However, something is fishy about Tag Kern’s death. Before his demise, there were reports claiming another man was with him before Tag was hung atop the water tower. Romana Teague catches wind of the story and decides to follow its trail for Fanrage, a blog she writes for, unaware of the ending she may meet. Gathering clues, interviewing Cypress Knee locals and acquaintances of Tag’s, and putting the pieces together, Romana hopes to crack this case to save her teetering career as a blogger. The Cypress Knee newspaper tasks Jack Bellet with digging deeper into the case for the neighborhood. As a veteran newspaper reporter, Mr. Bellet is familiar with plundering the city streets for leads to compose a riveting story for his readers; regrettably, much like Romana, the future of his career is precarious as well—likely because of the technological advances and lack of interest in a physical newspaper. Tag’s film company hires K.C. Gaddis to investigate this calamity; reluctant to return home, but thankful to land another gig, K.C. Gaddis plods his hometown of Cypress Knee to solve the mystery. Everything quickly goes awry when The Church of Us, a cultist group adamant about teaching solidarity in immortality, conceivably have their hands in the sudden death of Tag Kern. A suicide mystery turned swamp noir, it is up to these three unlikely heroes to collect the evidence to solve the case.

Several reports—and eye witnesses—claim another man was with Tag Kern before his impulsive “suicide.”

As the town plunges deeper into the abyss of hopelessness and extortion, Romana Teague, Jack Bellet, and K.C. Gaddis join forces to create an incredulous trio, each electric personality clashing with one another, each individual with long history with—and deep wounds inflicted by—the other. Realizing they are knee deep in the predicament, and understanding the uncertainty of their lives, our heroes insistently descend the rabbit hole, hoping to alleviate the clutching grasp of The Church of Us and the advancement proposed on the city known as Golden Cypress. However, with great knowledge comes great consequences, and our heroes find themselves—as well as those around them—frequently endangered by abrupt mishaps. Soon thereafter our heroes learn the true fate of Tag Kern, and set out to expose not just the disconcerting death of Tag Kern, but also the secrets the politicians of Cypress Knee are holding.

Knee Deep introduces itself in a recognizable fashion: an adventure game comprised of three acts. As trite as that may sound, Knee Deep is rather innovate in its approach to the classic adventure game: it takes the adventure game tropes and compounds them with a play. What Knee Deep presents is an invigorating take of the increasingly commonplace genre. Each character has a role and cues, and many characters deliver soliloquies befitting a Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, or William Shakespeare play. Prologue Games compose a captivating tale with an artistic mastery usual bereft in games of its genre. The stage changes, environments transform, and lights dim as Knee Deep switches between its three protagonists. Though set up as a play, player agency is still present by way of dialogue choices that affect the outcome of the acts and the fate of the characters. Twisting and contorting in several places, Knee Deep manages to stay coherent in its narrative, and the pacing is consistent throughout. The score is alluring, with atmospheric instrumentals that only amplify the mood already presented, and the aesthetics employ techniques of film noir: deep, rich blacks, moody shadows, and spotlights illuminating some areas and shrouding others. It’s safe to say Knee Deep would make an excellent film noir a la Casablanca or Pulp Fiction.

However, not everything is outstanding in Knee Deep. Because of the attitude Prologue Games chose—and the aesthetic that comes with that decision—Knee Deep has some frame rate inconsistencies, texture pop-in, and clipping issues. Because of this, some characters and textures can be a bit jarring, causing an alarming disconnect with the in-game object and its real-life counterpart. Some lighting effects can stutter, disrupting the otherwise superb mood Knee Deep posits; and some transitions can feel stiffened, moving with the speed of a snail, interrupting the engagement. Even still, Knee Deep is an exceptional experience to take part in as an observer, not so much a player: though you command the characters’ dialogue options, they move on their own, meandering to predetermined points before the next sequence takes place. Putting all of this aside, Knee Deep is a refreshing experience in a rather oversaturated genre.

With Knee Deep, Prologue Games manages to design a memorable experience in a way fans of plays and English majors alike will enjoy. With a classic film noir template, Knee Deep caters to a wide audience; exemplary lighting and gorgeous visuals create a visceral exposure of a fictionalized Florida. The top notch voice acting and impeccable writing elicit a relatable and wholly enjoyable game bursting with emotions, wit, and feverish tension. As written on their website, Prologue Games invites everyone to “experience a magical reality where characters are transported among scenes, set pieces moved into place, and music wafts from the orchestra pit. Knee Deep is about characters, storytelling, and the melodrama of swampland Florida.” Those captivated by gripping tales of betrayal and mystery—and a little bit of implied, gruesome deaths—would be wise to take a seat in the Prologue Theatre. Just know that it’s sometimes best to leave well enough alone. Don’t push your luck. After all, you can drown in knee deep water if you stand on your head.

Now, silence your phones.

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