Knock-knock
Gameplay 5
Graphics 8
Sound 8

Knock-Knock is not a very conventional game, which is both a blessing and a curse. It is a title that can easily confuse and frustrate players as it is not very forthcoming with what exactly it expects from you. However, once you figure out the gameplay mechanics, you’ll find that it can be an engrossing and creepy experience. Wandering around a house in the dark while fixing lights and hiding from ghosts may not sound very original, but the way in which Knock-Knock does things certainly is. In the end, it is another one of those love it or hate it games, which makes it hard to recommend to everyone.

Gameplay: Frequently frustrating and quite repetitive, but also strangely compelling.

Graphics: The 2D art is very unique and looks great.

Sound: Not much in the way of music, but the sound effects are excellent

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Knock-knock

Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge | Publisher: Ice-Pick Lodge | Release Date: 2013 | Genre: Horror / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Count yourself very lucky if you have never woken up in the middle of the night after hearing a strange noise from somewhere in your house. It is even worse if you can’t be quite sure whether or not the noise that woke you actually came from your house or if it was just part of a dream. Knock-Knock is an indie game that captures this feeling of dread and being disoriented perfectly, but depending on how willing you are to figure things out for yourself, it might just be a bit too obscure for most players.

The game opens with a cryptic message telling you that it is not actually a game, but an experience. You then discover that the character you are controlling is a wide eyed insomniac clad only in his pajamas, a scarf and some slippers. With his unruly hair and the dark circles beneath his eyes, he certainly doesn’t look like someone you would want to encounter in the dark. Apparently our protagonist is known only as the “Lodger” and he has a bit of an issue with his house. It is an unusual cabin that is situated deep within the woods, where he and his predecessors all worked as “world-ologists” whatever that may be. Lately the Lodger has begun to notice strange things in the house that has served as a lab and dwelling for three generations of Lodgers. Things have begun to go missing, his sleep is constantly interrupted by strange noises and he has a dreadful feeling that something odd is coming out of the woods and infiltrating his house. The question is, are there really supernatural events taking place or is it all simply in his head?

To say that Knock-Knock is a unique game would be an understatement. It initially appears to be some type of survival horror title, but it does a marvelous job of not really explaining anything to players. In fact, we would wager that most players end up wandering around aimlessly in the house they are tasked with safeguarding without really knowing what to do. You see, there is no way to attack the unwanted “guests” that appear in your house and the only way to avoid them is by hiding. The game simply tells you to stay awake and sane until dawn, but this seemingly simple task is complicated by a game that flat out refuses to hold your hand.

The basic gameplay mechanics of Knock-Knock involves walking from room to room in your house with its 2D, randomized rooms. In each room you have the option of holding down a button to fix the light in the room, which will banish all the shadows and allow you to walk through the room at a brisk pace, instead of creeping, which is your default speed in the dark. In most rooms you’ll notice that the Lodger will close his eyes as soon as you switch on the light, which allows him to “remember” the contents of the room, which then becomes visible. This is vital as most of the rooms in the house are completely bare until you do this, which means there is no place to hide.

One might think that the best way to stay safe until dawn is to simply switch on all the lights and hide somewhere, but this is actually the worst thing that you can do. For one thing, you cannot see the “guests” at all in rooms where the light is on, so you have no way of noticing them sneaking up on you. Contact with a guest results in your character losing time, which means it will take longer for dawn to arrive. If you lose too much time, it’s back to the start of the level. Hiding also has a downside, as time will actually flow backwards while you are doing it, which means you’ll never see dawn if you just cower away behind something. Finally, the Lodger has lost something very important and exploring all the rooms in the house is the only way of discovering it again and finding out more about the cryptic story. Of course, the game doesn’t explain any of this to you, which can make things very confusing until you figure it out.

Another thing that makes Knock-Knock extremely tricky is the randomized nature of the game. The house changes each night and some layouts are just way more hazardous than others. It is also very easy to end up in situations where there is nowhere to hide and multiple guests heading your way, which is extremely frustrating. Luckily you can zoom out to get a view of the entire house, which helps you to plan ahead about where to go next and which rooms to avoid. The games also warn you where the “breaches” that let in the guests will appear, but you have to reach them in time to switch on the light and prevent them from opening. Lightning flashes highlight the location of each room that is about to be breached, but sometimes you are simply too far away to get to them in time. Then there’s the maze-like forest levels where you actually get to venture outside your house and try to catch up with a girl who is hiding some interesting secrets. Your character can even enter the breaches that spawn the guests, but while there are certain advantages for doing so, the outcome is always restarting the level.

If you make it far enough into the tame there is even a sanity meter that comes into play. Once again, this is bound to be the source of a lot of frustration for players as the game never explains what it is and just how valuable time becomes once it is active. Let’s just say that it is entirely too easy to end up with no sanity and no option but to restart the entire game if you are not careful. Unlike the clocks that you can find throughout the game that enables you to fast forward time, there is no way to regain lost sanity.

While it is easy to criticize the obscure gameplay elements of Knock-Knock, there is no faulting the visuals. Ice-Pick Lodge has chosen a very unique art style for the game and while it appears very cartoonish at first, it actually matches the creepy atmosphere perfectly. The Lodger looks positively unhinged, especially when he stares straight at the screen while addressing the player. His hair also has a habit of casting some very disturbing shadows on the walls. The “guests” are also a creepy bunch, ranging from piles of leaves with legs sticking out of them to headless apparitions in straitjackets and even a doppelgänger.

Knock-Knock also excels when it comes to audio and while it doesn’t have much in the way of music, it more than makes up for it with the sound effects. Playing this game alone in the dark with headphones is an unnerving experience purely because of the constant knocking, creaking and other sounds that bombard you. You’ll also hear whispers from time to time and the Lodger has his own gibberish way of talking. There were a couple of times that we were so engrossing in the game that we actually jumped as a door slammed in our face or a light bulb exploded in a shower of sparks.

Overall, there is a lot that we like about Knock-Knock and we can certainly appreciate how unique it is, but there is no denying that it is a very divisive game. Same players will enjoy playing cat and mouse with the visitors in your house, while others will see nothing except for tedium and repetition. The confusing hallway and forest segments doesn’t do much to endear the game to players either. The fact that it is so easy to reach the final levels in the game only to find that you don’t have enough sanity to proceed is also pretty harsh. Then there are the technical difficulties that we encountered. For some reason the Lodger slowed down nearly to a crawl when creeping in the dark and initially we thought that this was simply how the game worked. It wasn’t until we messed around with the vertical sync settings in the NVIDIA control panel that we were able to get him to creep at a normal speed. Another peculiar aspect of the game is how you can fix the light-bulbs in a room from anywhere you stand, which is rather odd if the light-bulb is actually located in the center of the room.

Knock-Knock is not a game to play if you expect easy answers or a game that guides you every step of the way. However, if you want to experience a survival horror title where the scares are more psychological than anything else, you might appreciate the game. It definitely requires some patience and perseverance if you want to get the most out of it, but in the end it intrigued us enough that we had to see it through all the way to the end. Some of it flaws may be a little too much for most players to overlook, but if you can look past them you will find an interesting and unique game.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP or later
  • Graphics: GPU that supports shader model 2.0
  • Storage: 700 MB available space
  • OS: Mac OS X 10.5 or later
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Storage: 700 MB available space
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • OS: Ubuntu 10.10 or later
  • Graphics: GPU that supports shader model 2.0
  • Storage: 700 MB available space

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