Knock-Knock Review (PC)

When it comes to Ice Pick Lodge, an independent game studio from Russia, I suppose we should know that we’re in for a wacky ride. Their back catalogue includes the relatively well acclaimed and somewhat Myst-like The Void, and the absolutely bizarre 3D puzzle platform adventure Cargo!. Their latest effort Knock-knock – a kick-started effort clearly meant to capitalise on spook sales at Halloween – is most certainly not a return to planet Earth for these guys. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately with this particular attempt I’m afraid it might well be.

Knock-knock doesn’t even know what type of game to call itself on the official website, although it hints at being some kind of survival horror with mysterious elements. Perhaps it is this lack of clarity pervading throughout every nook and cranny of the game itself which is the reason that I myself am still rather confused as to exactly what this game is and why most people would actually want to play it. In the developer’s own words: ”knock-knock is not a game as such.” As it happens, that is something I can mainly agree with, but probably not for the reasons the devs had intended. No matter what way I look at it, I’m pretty sure I’m still missing the advantages of this supposed design decision.

Occasionally the hermit speaks, offering glimmerings of hope that the game actually has a story

The game begins with a comment that the game was built according to a series of mysterious instructions sent to the game dev studio. The instructions insisted on certain things being present in the game, but that the actual gameplay itself could be designed in any way the developers wished. It’s the typical start to a Halloween folktale. Then you are presented with a recommendation to play the game alone and in the dark – which, by the way, I did. Someone tattooed “sucker” on my forehead.

There’s then a confusing but styled comic intro which doesn’t really make any sense, of course by this point you still think it’ll all come together in the end so it has the cool mysterious feel which all good horror games have. Then the game starts and you discover that you play as a rather bizarre looking red-haired hermit.

At first it seems like there’s actually something to the game. You wander about the house doing things, you hear noises, you get a few jump scares, you think to yourself that the piano music and ambient sound effects are pretty cool, and you have a genuinely high level of intrigue to get to the bottom of just what the heck is actually going on. Unfortunately all of this starts to rapidly unravel after just an hour or so into the game when you realise the core gameplay mechanics are simplistic, repetitive, tedious, somewhat random, and completely unsatisfying.

The majority of your game time is spent creeping slowly through a large dark empty house turning on light bulbs and picking up clocks. When you pick up a clock, time – displayed in the top-left of the screen – whizzes forward a set amount and you get closer to dawn. When the dawn arrives, the level ends and you pass to the next one. Apart from some sparsely distributed dynamic comic segments which give you the tiniest taste of a storyline, each level is almost exactly the same as the last except a little bigger.

The threat in the game comes in the form of the “guests”. Apparently these creatures of the night, which take some of the weirdest forms you could imagine, are attracted to your house by the light. They burrow through the wall, enter your house, and wander around looking for you. At that point, the only way you have of dealing with them is to hide behind some object and hope that they don’t spot you. If they don’t, then they disappear, if they do then the screen shakes about a bit and you lose some of the time you collected. Whether they do or not seems to be almost completely random. If you don’t hide at all and run into one of the guests then exactly the same thing happens as if they’d caught you hiding, you lose time.

What does it all mean??!

The game makes continual references to hide and seek, obviously quite proud of this part of itself. But it’s difficult to see why exactly because this part of the game functions rather badly. There are not enough things to hide behind, so sometimes you’re in a situation where you can’t do anything other than take a hit. Additionally the guests move faster than the hermit, so if you’re a split second too late in seeing them, then they will get you.

After enough frustrating rounds of hide and seek, the best tactic I found was simply to rush around getting as many clocks as possible before any guests even arrived and thereby flying through levels without having to deal with them at all. Mainly because once they do arrive it’s just too much trouble to bother with. You’re supposed to have to go around fixing the holes in the house so that more guests can’t come in, but I just didn’t see the point. It’s far more valuable to collect more time and just skip on to the next level; besides which then you avoid something which has questionable entertainment value.

On top of all this, the real nail in the coffin for Knock-knock is that the damn thing doesn’t seem to explain anything when you actually reach the end of the game. After level upon level of learning more about the hermit’s insomnia, his missing diary pieces, the strange girl in the house, and so on, you finally reach the end of the game just out of pure curiosity to see how Ice Pick plan on explaining all this nonsense and discover there’s nothing more than a cut scene which is just as confusing as every other shard of unexplained nonsense. Frankly, that kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable in this type of game.

If I have to say one positive thing about Knock-knock then I suppose I do have to admit that it certainly had my hair on end the first time I played it, and I got at least a handful of scare shocks – despite the fact that the graphics look like something off the cartoon network. I guess I’m a pretty easy scare, but none the less I did get a kick out of this aspect of the game. The problem for Ice Pick, of course, is that there’s a load of horror games already out there which do this kind of thing and in a much more accomplished manner.

I have absolutely no comment whatsoever on this

The graphics are nothing special. I suppose there is some interesting artwork in there, but how many indie games do we get which have interesting artwork these days? It’s just not enough to sustain interest. The sound overall is very good, the ambient sound effects have the desired effect and the sounds of banging doors and whispering voices certainly put me on edge for my first delve into the game.

Overall this really is not a game I can give a thumbs-up. I’m not entirely sure who’d enjoy a game like this. It’s possible we’ll see a few desperate YouTubers record their girlfriend getting scared by some of the earlier moments in the game, but aside from that tiny bit of stimulation and the initial hope that the nonsensical plot will have a logical finish, there’s very little here for anyone other than the most desperate of horror fans. Sorry Ice Pick.

Top game moment: The first time you play; when you still have hope that you’ll find the answers to the mystery, and the game is apparently scary enough to provide a few cheap thrills.