Let me preface this review by saying, I’m a fan of thriller-horror. I love it when games, books or movies attempt to reach spindly fingers into my head, grasp a part of my brain, and pinch. The original four Silent Hills, John Saul’s The Blackstone Chronicles, Event Horizon — across mediums, if it’s meant to raise the hair on the back of your arms, I’m into it. So when I was offered the chance to review Knock-Knock I jumped at it.
Some of the most effective horror subverts our childhood. It taps into both nostalgia and something simpler, something more instinctual. We were all afraid of the dark at some point. Knock-Knock takes a game we’re all familiar with — hide and go seek — and twists it into something darker. This is best played alone in the dark, with a good set of headphones.
You play as the Lodger, the third in a line of lodgers living in a cabin deep in the woods. Now a simple home, it once served as a laboratory. You’re alone, and as of late, you’re having trouble sleeping. There are weird things going on at night – things are disappearing. Doors open or close on their own. Thunder cracks with no accompanying rumble or storm. It feels like there’s something in the woods outside — and whatever it is has started knocking at your cabin’s front door.
Time stands still. Morning is forever away – it will not come. But it’s all imaginary, you tell yourself. Paranoia. You slip out of bed, light a lantern, and begin the nightly ritual of walking the house. Unlocking doors, turning on lights. Occasionally you’ll have to let your eyes adjust to the bright room and missing furniture appears as if for the first time. But as you wander the cabin, you can hear someone speaking. Sometimes the voice is childish. Sometimes it’s deep. You might see an undead “guest” out of the corner of your eye, plodding toward you — and all you can do is run, and hide until they go away.
Are the “guests” real? Are they demons or side effects of experimentation? As the night goes on, you start to question your very sanity. You just have to make it till morning.
The good: Knock-Knock has a crisp art style that makes me think I’m playing with paper cutouts in a dollhouse. It’s simple, functional, and absolutely fits the type of game the developer was going for. The game is clearly a labor of love and it shows. And instead of handing the main character an ever-expanding stockpile of weaponry, Knock-Knock dares to try something different with the genre by stripping combat out completely. The cabin is also randomly generated, lending to a ton of replayability.
The bad: The problem is, the game is deliberately obtuse. Yes, okay, you have to go and light up each room. But that’s not enough to bring the break of daylight. And the “guests” will regularly knock out the lights you’ve already turned on. It seems the best tactic is to go into a dark room, fix the light, wait for objects to appear, and then immediately turn the light back out so as not to arouse the interest of the guests.
Between cabins you’ll find yourself in the woods outside. I couldn’t find the point in this. You just shift side to side and press “up” until you walk into your cabin again – at which point the Lodger wakes up in bed, and another night of walking his home is ahead of him. More and more of the cabin fills out, and soon you begin discovering pages torn out of a missing journal. But even the journal entries are hard to understand. I never got a sense of narrative – and with each new night, my confusion just got worse.
With no combat, all you can do is run and hide from the “guests”. Except that hiding hurts you – turning back time and pushing dawn away that much more. There are other things that happen in the game that resulted in me repeating nights/levels when all I did was follow the on-screen prompts. Was the game punishing me? Well no, not necessarily. According to the in-game text, sometimes the game lies to you — and you’re responsible for figuring out “how to play it”.
That obtuseness led to Knock-Knock’s downfall, in my opinion. What was supposed to be methodical was instead tedious. What I expected to be slow and tension-filled instead felt plodding. Beyond the particularly effective knocking sound effect, I didn’t find it at all scary; instead I found it boring.