Unique horror games can be difficult to come by, especially ones that tend to linger after the session is done.  More often than not, they tend to rely on the good old jump scare or standard themes and tropes that have been applied to every other game – fill every third closet with body parts, have a section where you come to a dead end and turn around to spot the monster, include a fake ending… Knock-knock works a bit differently, as it’s focused more on a lasting creep than the quick jump. It’s a game that brings to mind the feeling plenty of people get when they suddenly wake up, absolutely sure there’s something in the house…be it a noise, or a flutter of shadow. And you just have to get up and turn on the lights everywhere to be absolutely sure.

In a dark house lives the Lodger. While apparently spending his whole life there, he’s never explored all of the rooms.  He suffers from a number of disorders like insomnia and dementia, and often finds himself wandering out in the forest, with no clue where his house is. This leads to a small search for both the house and a certain inhabitant of the forest. When he comes back, everything seems off, from the layout to the lack of furniture. These are the puzzle stages of the game, where the Lodger wanders from room to room, fixing broken lights and trying to remember where the furniture is.

knock-knock_05

The end is nigh!

The latter becomes important because, after some time, monstrous “guests” will begin appearing in the house. They can’t be killed, so the only option is to run or hide behind a convenient dresser. In the latter half of the game, a giant “main guest” makes its way towards the house, and the Lodger begins to question their very sanity.  Spend too long in the stages after the main guest appears, and it could spell game over as the Lodger loses his mind.

In terms of gameplay, there’s very little hand-holding. There are a few prompts to teach the basics such as turning on lights, waiting in rooms, and zooming out. The basic goal of each puzzle stage is to make it to dawn, based on a clock in the corner of the screen. Clocks can be found which will accelerate time, while hiding will reverse it and touching a guest will set it back significantly. Go back too far and the stage resets. Other than that, it’s up to you to discover the intricacies of gameplay, such as the various tactics to deal with the guests, or how turning lights on allows you to move faster but will also make guests invisible. While it’s a system that encourages experimentation, it can definitely seem unfair to new players.

As an atmospheric game, Knock-knock excels in such things as sound design. Booming thumps sound like they might be right next to you, while guests will angrily whisper “Don’t you hide from me…” as they seek you out. Shadows interact well when the Lodger turns on the lights in a room, otherwise armed only with a small candle. And when the lights are out, the guests can be seen in their horrifying artistic style.  Stylistically, it’s done very well, but it does suffer from a few flaws when playing.

Prepare to get used to this forest!

Prepare to get used to this forest!

While the random layout of the house in each puzzle stage, along with the randomly summoned guests, can allow for unique experiences with every playthrough, it can also mean that dumb luck plays a large factor in whether or not you even complete the stage, much less the game. Sometimes time-accelerating clocks are plentiful, while other times you’ll be lucky to find even one. In the forest section, you might spend too much time trying to find the house to begin the next stage. It’s bad enough when it’s one level, but a streak of bad luck can even make it impossible to finish the game. I personally wound up in an infinite loop of Game Over screens when loading the next level, forcing a restart. While one can argue that it serves to strengthen the feeling of helplessness and urgency, it simply causes frustration.

While the terrors within the game only grow stronger and more frequent, the Lodger will always remain just as he is in the beginning of the game. The reward for progression comes not only in figuring out the actual tactics to advance, but in the bits and pieces of actual story.  There is no set narrative to Knock-knock, but the Lodger does like to talk (a lot) about his life, the house, his family, and more. There are also diary pages that can be found, explaining more about the guests and their visits. It’s possible to simply pick a safe area of a house and try to stay there through the whole night, but the true rewards come to those who actually brave the dark. There are some frustrating game design choices, but it’s the atmosphere that really makes the game.

Oh, I'm doomed.

Oh, I’m doomed.

KAIJU VERDICT

3/4 Pops: Exceptional  A significant cut above the crowd. Though flawed or otherwise not necessarily for everyone, it does things other games in the genre do not, or tries something new with a great deal of success.

 

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