Review by Alyx Jones
Edited by Sam Hughes
Developer: Prologue Games
Composers: Chris Wilson and Steve Pardo (Skewsound)
Sound Designers: Nick Kallman and Dan Crislip (Skewsound)
Voice Actors: Arielle DeLisle, Dan Osborne, George Washington III
Reviewed on: Mac (Steam)
Knee Deep is a very interesting swamp noir adventure, released in three acts. The game is focused around storytelling, giving the player choices of how to react to different situations every step of the way. When a washed up actor hangs himself on location, the mystery begins in the town of Cypress Knee. Conspiracy theories, choices and consequences; this indie game has many secrets to uncover and features innovative animations, centred around the theatre, that tells each part of the story in a unique and gripping way. Following the three main characters in a story we can shape, is a new way to unravel what happened behind this mysterious death.
With such a strong narrative element, reactive audio is less of a need for this game, since the level of interactivity and freedom is lower. The game is a live/animated version of the old tradition of role playing books such as the well known “Fighting Fantasy” series. While there are some factors the player has control over, such as duration making decisions and the narrative options they choose, the story is told through a heavy use of predetermined cinematics that we are walked through as the player.
Skewsound were responsible for all music and sound design within Knee Deep. The sound design is really key in setting the scenes, with sounds such as crickets and insects buzzing around this swap noir story. Important features such as the characters’ footfalls and whirring machine noises, incorporated into various puzzles bring the environment to life. A lot of the audio is treated heavily with reverb that creates the illusion that we are still sat within the theatre where the game starts, watching the events on stage rather than actually living through the story. It creates an extra layer within the game, a story within a story, and subtly reminds us of this, through the use of reverb to emulate the presumably large building in which the stage is set.
Wilson and Pardo have done a really lovely job in creating a bluesy, gritty, swamp inspired soundtrack to the deteriorating life in Cypress Knee. Electric guitar slides coupled with rhythmic acoustic guitar is reminiscent of artists such as Jace Everett. With the sitting on the fence nicely between blues and country, but hitting the darker side of this genre. There are murders in Cypress Knee after all! Diegetic music is used often, the three investigators spend a fair amount of time quizzing potential suspects in diners with music playing, as well as car stereos and radios often switched on in many buildings. It adds to the realism of the narrative especially since we have no option to turn them off.
Knee Deep features a wide breadth of voice talent brought in to tell the story. Almost every character is voiced by a different person. This delivers a great deal of believability and emotion and helps to hold up the animations. With a lower budget game, it’s not possible to afford perfectly accurate speaking animations and individual motion capture for each character, so the voice actors are able to reinforce the personality and traits of each character and build complex relationships and dialogue between them through the use of their voice. It helps take the narrative to another level, pushing the emotions and interactions beyond what was possible purely through the visuals.
In many ways this game shows how important audio is to lower budget, indie games, in creating atmospheres and especially in the case of the multitude of talented voice acting. A good job all round and a really interesting use of a video game medium to tell a story, shaped by the player!
The Sound Architect
Full list of Voice Actors: Arielle DeLisle, Dan Osborne, George Washington III, Chad Pierce, Donovan Corneetz, Julie Pearson, Bill Rogers, Deirdre Cooper, Fred Goya, Jack de Golia, Trent Rentsch, Lyssa Graham, Rowell Gormon, Thomas Varhol, Kelley Buttrick, Everett Delonga, Wes Platt, Nic Natarella, Michael Stuart, Mitchell Lucas, Joe Ferrara, Katie Leigh, Moniece Robinson, Jesse Hayes (Voice Talent co-ordinated by Krash Creative)