Knee Deep Act 1: Wonderland released on Steam on July 6th to great fanfare within a few niche circles of the gaming community, and a few criticisms from adventure game fans. Developer Prologue Games have doubled down on the criticisms of the first part, and in Knee Deep Act 2: Festival, they’ve done everything they can to polish up the series and fix the minor niggles to make the second entry something truly special. For the most part, their efforts have worked.
Knee Deep takes you to the town of Cypress Knee. A backwater, redneck stereotype in the bayous of Florida, you take on the role of three very distinct characters. Hipster blogger, Romana Teaque, beleaguered newspaper journnalist Jack Bellet, and private investigator K.C Gaddis. What’s great about hopping between the three characters is that the wide range of dialogue options really gives you the opportunity to step into their shoes and inhabit three very different roles. The central hook of the game’s narrative is the trio – separately, and occasionally begrudgingly as a team – investigating the murder of Tag Kern. Kern is a Hollywood celebrity turned cultist, who has joined the Church of Us. At the outset of Act 1, Kern has opted to hang himself from a Native American pastiche of a roadside attraction, but of course, all is not what it seems.
To some extent, Act 2 is left picking up the pieces of Act 1’s sucker punch ending. The last five minutes or Act 1 jumped the shark a little bit, with revelations and plot twists being thrown around with reckless abandon. Some of them aren’t addressed to any great extent in Festival, but the central hook of investigating Tag Kern’s death remains the driving force behind our trio of heroes. In a game where story is such an essential part of the experience, I don’t want to spoil any of the plot points, but needless to say, Festival lives up to its noir styling in the way that murder begets even more murder.
The FBI agents investigating your three avatars spend much of this episode dancing around accusations that rather than all of you being in the wrong place at the wrong time, you happen to be behind all of the strange goings on in Cypress Knee. This once again allows for some excellent use of each of the three character’s unique dialogue responses. Teague can offer a slew of strange responses, Bellet can be belligerent as hell, and Gaddis’ cynical responses turn him into a detective that’s as hard boiled as an egg. With the new voice acting in place, you really come to inhabit the shoes of each character, and the game’s achievements reward constantly offering each character’s unique response. It also generally leads to the most entertaining conversation routes.
The biggest flaw in Knee Deep‘s storytelling might be entirely intentional on the part of the developer. Many characters seem to be afflicted with the desire to tell you that they have something important to tell you and then promptly die before they reveal that information. It means that you find out a central plot point long before any of your characters do, prompting the sort of frustration that you’d get watching an episode of your favorite television show when a character is about to enter what you know is a trap, or is trusting the one person they really shouldn’t be trusting. It feels like a lazy way to hold suspense that in the context of the noir adventure, works well. It’s frustratingly hilarious.
Further mini-games pop up in Act 2 as well. Memorizing a series of numbers to break into a keypad locked room is a fun little diversion, and assembling fingerprints on an app should be dull, but Prologue Games have had the sense to have the prints highlight in yellow when they’re in the right position, so then it’s simply a matter of rotating them into place. They did the same with a wire connecting mini game in Act 1, and it’s a tiny touch that stops these breaks from the story from becoming frustrating, which is often the case in other games of this nature.
Unfortunately, Festival is letdown to some extent by its visuals. It retains that moody, noir look with shadows abound, and sticks beautifully to the stage play aesthetic again, but the problem comes in the lack of detail at places. A central scene involving a crashed ambulance pulls you out of the moment due to an ambulance logo that looks like it was pasted in from clip-art. Furthermore, textures often lack detail and surfaces are flat and dull. The improved character animations means that you often get up close and personal, and when you do, the animation is serviceable – we’ve certainly seen worse. The music, meanwhile, does the business, with twanging, blue grass style tunes really keeping that swamp vibe alive.
Knee Deep Act 2: Festival ends in much better fashion than Wonderland did, with the hard hitting ending coming from the events of the episode. It has a much more satisfying finisher that leaves you excited for the final act. Rather than being the sleepy, saggy middle, Festival is a step up and despite its flaws, is another top notch addition to this excellently written noir adventure.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.