Bodies In The Bayou

HIGH Chasing a murderer across a rooftop with a grumpy ex-cop.

LOW The ex-cop’s wooden joke-telling.

WTF The big twist ending that I can’t spoil but trust me, when you get to it, you’ll understand.


 

Telltale’s formula for adventure games has become fairly standard lately. Players walk around, do basic puzzles, and make both minor and meaningful narrative choices that alter the course of the story. However, not all adventure game titles are content to copy this approach, and Knee Deep can be counted among those that break away from the template.

Knee Deep is a linear, choice-based adventure game with a handful of puzzles (about one per episode) but its style sets it apart. It’s presented as a live production on stage, with characters breaking the fourth wall to soliloquize, exposit, and literally walk out of scenes as they transition. There are no loading screens, and the stage pops, shifts, and rotates to seamlessly connect things together at a rapid pace that defies adventure game norms. This stage conceit also allows for moments that would raise eyebrows in another format, and a crazy conspiracy twist that genuinely caught me by surprise.

Speaking of crazy, Knee Deep will be right up the alley of Twin Peaks or Northern Exposure fans. Each protagonist is a quirky character, such as the blogger spouting twee nothings, the journalist spouting belligerence, and the ex-cop spouting cynical nihilism. The townsfolk are even weirder — there’s an occult-worshiping southern belle, a motel manager who vehemently hates ferrets, and a man feuding with a gator that ate his only child. It’s all bizarre and twisted, but in just the right way to be relentlessly charming. Plus, this story actually packs surprises.

I grew up in a household where predicting plot twists and figuring stories out before their grand reveal was the norm, and despite my years of calling a story’s bluff, Knee Deep managed to catch me off-guard several times. What starts as a simple story of figuring out why a burnt-out Hollywood star hung himself rapidly turns into a quagmire of double-crosses and a high body count. Even better, Knee Deep upends Telltale’s tropes and subverts the expectations brought on by that studio’s output in ways that can’t be predicted. I would love to say more, but to ruin these twists would be doing readers a grave disservice.

While the mystery is intriguing, the leads are well-developed, and the opening pair of episodes build upon each other marvelously, I do have to criticize Knee Deep‘s third act for going a bit too uncanny. It was totally unexpected, and took what was a quirky (but still fairly grounded) story and drove it into the direction of dark fantasy. Plus, there’s at least one scene at the end that might have been a hint at a sequel… or maybe it was just a joke? I honestly couldn’t tell.

Another issue is that the rapid pace of the story is both a blessing and a curse — it encourages replay to see different outcomes, but it’s possible to play through in a single sitting. With such a tight running time, certain plot points don’t get fully fleshed out, and there are some details that never feel satisfyingly concluded. I get that the game is going for a more ‘open to interpretation’ sort of ending, but I would have preferred a bit more closure.

Technically, there were a few minor bugs here and there but nothing serious. A bigger issue of concern was the voice acting.  Most of the time it clicks, but there were a handful of instances when I misunderstood how I was supposed to feel about a character because the vocal delivery was off. For instance, one character I was supposed to find suspicious came across as sincere until the next episode. The dialogue kept offering scathing options, but they tonally clashed with the responses I was hearing. It doesn’t happen much, but it was frustrating when it did.

Knee Deep is clearly an ambitious title working against the constraints that come with being a small studio, yet it manages to deliver a darkly humorous southern crime noir that kept me glued to my seat. Sure, it has a few problems, but my journey through the troubled swamp town of Cyprus Hills was a memorable one. Rating: 8.5 out of 10


 

Disclosures: This game is developed by Prologue Games and published by Wales Interactive. It is currently available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, and Linux. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen 13+. and contains fantasy violence and language. Knee Deep is not an ideal game for a young child, particularly if parents want to avoid the subject of murder. There are elements to the story that might also scare a small child, such as the backstory of one character in which his toddler was eaten by an alligator. Anyone over the age of 12 (or so) should be fine though.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Knee Deep‘s sound is not necessary for progression. No sound cues or audio hints are present, and it offers subtitles for dialogue — I’d say it’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Knee Deep uses three face buttons, thumbsticks, bumpers, and triggers. These controls are not remappable.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Elijah Beahm

Elijah is a raving madman from the backwoods of Pennsylvania who loves Dead Space a bit too much for his own good. Has lived the stream, pounded the news beat, and currently reviews (see: rants politely) on YouTube.

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