When a developer gives back story to how the idea for a game came about you can normally just zone out and assume the idea came from an underpaid staff member and then got focus tested to something completely different. When Ice-Pick Lodge’s press release came through there was the usual marketing speak and hyperbole, but then something caught my eye. ‘Apparently’ Ice-Pick Lodge received an email in 2011 which was essentially telling them about a game idea, attached were 19 files labelled ‘lestplay’, within the files were random notes, audio files, text files and some video footage. From this unsettling email Knock Knock was born. Straight out of the bat at the start of the game the developers reveal a condensed version of this story, they finish by saying that it could just be a hoax or that it may be real, either way look at it as an urban legend. Whatever the truth is I am rarely swayed by a press release or the story of a developer’s inspiration, this time however I had to find out more.
The developers find it hard to call this a game, numerous times throughout the ‘experience’ you are told that it isn’t a game but is more of a ‘interactive meditation’. This worries me because any game that has a creepy back story and is meant to scare the player shouldn’t be described as meditative. The problem with them saying ‘this isn’t a game’ means that I feel like I should look at it differently, namely in the first instance as despite putting many hours into it I have no idea what was going on at any point. The game doesn’t feature a tutorial and only for the first two or three times does it tell you what a button’s purpose is.
The gist as far as I can tell from the random mutterings of the game’s lead is that he is suffering from insomnia, and has done for a while. as such things just aren’t quite right in his house, to make sure everything is in order, and to relax his psyche, in the hope of making it to morning and getting some sleep. Unfortunately time keeps stopping and to move it on you must go to his clock and wind the hands forward. Everytime you play the game the house is in a different lay out, there are running themes though, namely that the lights are always out, you must stand for a few seconds rejigging them to get the power back.
I am a firm believer in there being different types of horror, there’s the simple gross out horrors like Friday the 13th. There’s jump horrors like Scream or Final Destination, a loud noise erupts after a moment of silence. And then there’s true horror, the creepy horror that stays with you after the moment has passed, to me the Japanese Horror market has mastered this art, they don’t hide the dead children or make them run fast and make loud noises, they make sure you’re looking at them, they make sure you have no choice but endure the tension and let it sit with you on your walk home or when laying in bed trying to sleep. That is what Knock Knock has mastered.
It is suggested you play the game in a dark room and with headphones, trust me when I say this is a sure-fire way to keep looking over your shoulder whilst playing, also as a side note don’t have your phone on vibrate in your pocket and then receive a call from your partner, to say I jumped and whelped would be an understatement. New elements arrive with each level in the game, rooms will be empty in the early stages because you ‘need to let your eyes adjust to the light’ when they do items or markings will appear, or worse case the person in the screenshot above. At this point you must run to the nearest object to hide behind, be it a telescope, bed or boiler. Then a game mechanic I didn’t understand where the screen went black apart from a hole in the middle surveying the area for me, again, another wonderfully tense moment.
There is no soundtrack in Knock Knock, there’s just your footsteps, the creaking of the house and the knocking, the knocking of the door at random intervals is sure to mess you up at first. This game may not be the most fun experience you’ll ever have, you may not run back to it after a couple of hours, but if you have any interest in horror, sound design or writing this is a masterpiece in tension and presentation. Every so often the ‘action’ breaks to allow the character to talk to you, his sentences often make no sense and unsettle the player even more. His voice is unintelligible like Simlish, but there are voice overs as you progress with some wonderful audio distressing done to them.
The game just uses the arrow keys and spacebar and E to move and use things, it couldn’t be more simple on the face of it, but the actual principle of what you’re doing is quite complicated, you are told to survive until morning numerous times but other than moving the clock forward and occasionally going outside I still don’t get it. The lighting in this game is fantastic and the pseudo 3D/2D juxtaposition is wonderful to look at. The subtleties of the design are to be admired, the barely visible scrawls on the wall behind the player, the noose loosely hanging from a beam or the eyes on the tiled floor, all there to unsettle the player.
I’m hesitant to go into too much detail about this ‘game’ as anything I can say would be spoilers, plus as I mentioned I don’t really understand it. If you’re bored with the FPS horrors that are flooding the market then give this a try. Its graphics at first glance are cute and cartoony but this just shows how impressive everything else is if that doesn’t take away from the horror. It might just be good marketing all of the backstory but it adds to the experience, and that’s what this is, it isn’t a game, it isn’t a ‘interactive meditation’ it is an experience that will stay with you, if nothing else for its impressiveness.