Cypress Knee is one podunk town you don’t want to be in. This backwater dive has got corruption at its core, ‘gators than can swallow a man whole and a Church Tom Cruise would find attractive. It’s also got a washed-up actor swinging by his neck from a ramshackle roadside tourist attraction. Knee Deep is crime thriller with its own twist.
All the world is a stage, some bloke once said, and in Cypress Knee that is literally true. Knee Deep breaks down the fourth wall and turns you the player into an audience member watching and controlling a stage play. With its cut away sets, wandering spotlight and theatrical acoustics, the world of Knee Deep is turned into a matinee performance you direct. It’s an interesting approach to telling a story and certainly original. It seems to fit the dark and sometimes strange swamp noir style. There’s something broody and sexy about Knee Deep’s setting and the gentle way the story is presented. If you crossed The Big Sleep with True Blood and Columbo, stuck a crocodile in the middle and put it on Broadway, well, that would be weird, but it gives you an idea what to expect (but no vampires, sorry).
Knee Deep is entirely story-based. The characters move themselves around and you’re in charge of making them talk. In TellTale style, you’re given several choices, many of which will vastly effect your progression. Unlike, The Walking Dead, however, your choices aren’t generally timed. You’ll have all the time in the world to make a decision you’ll probably end up regretting anyway. There is one exception to this, but you’ll discover that on your own. Just don’t go far from your controller!
The game will tell you when a choice will be critical to the game, and it will inform you every time an event happens because of your decisions. Of course, many of the consequences will seem rather minor, but others are pretty big. There is certainly enough cause and effect to make you feel like you’re truly in control of the story’s direction and outcome. In addition to the dialogue choices you make, Knee Deep also gives you another way to effect the entire game.
You’re in control of three characters, a zesty blogger, an ageing reporter and a down-on-his luck investigator. Each one is investigating the death of Tag Kern from a different angle with a different agenda, and each one will need to present a report, or submit a story or blog post about the events and clues they discover. What they write about and what sort of spin they put on it is down to you, and this will effect the story, the people in the town and what their bosses think of them. It’s awesome, and the fact that you have three characters to play with makes it awfully tempting, to be daring and inflammatory with at least one of them.
While walking around on your own and exploration is not something you can do, there are a few puzzles thrown in for your enjoyment. They’re very easy and very quick and make a nice little break from all the jabbering. If you are planning a second playthrough, whether it’s for trophies or to see different consequences, you might find the same easy puzzles a bit irritating as all they really do is slow you down. Luckily, there are only a handful of them and although they do seem a bit out of place, they’re easily completed.
As Knee Deep is presented as a play, it makes sense that it unfolds over three separate acts. The game is essentially episodic, but unlike it’s original PC release, all three acts are included here, which is a real relief because this is one of those games that’s hard to put down. The story’s pacing is excellent and it’s a twisty turny, curly whirly sort of plot with lots to remember. Each Act takes about two hours give or take, so if you can free up a whole afternoon, this is a one-sitting whodunnit pleasure boat of crime and investigation.
The graphics are really nice. The dark sets and flashes of neon fit with the game’s noir style, and everything runs as smooth as an alligator’s intestinal tract (which I’m assuming is very smooth. Please do email us here at Punk and Lizard if we’re wrong). The way the sets lift and spin and the characters move from one place to another is really rather clever, and the occasional outburst from the audience reminds you of your own voyeuristic presence. If you’re not adverse to a spot of swamp music, you’ll love the soundtrack. It’s relaxing when it needs to be and picks up pace in all the right spots. The end song Cut Her Down is just brilliant, definitely a track I want on my iPod and it finishes off the game in perfect swamp noir style.
With its shadowy and mysterious plot, malevolent conspiracies and mixed agendas, Knee Deep is an original and captivating narrative experience. Worth every penny of it’s price tag.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10
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