The Covers Don’t Protect You: A Preview of “Knock Knock”
Scary games are only as good as you’ll let them be. You can play a scary game with the lights on and the sound down, just to make fun of it; but you’re missing out. I like diving into scary games (often to my detriment), going for full immersion. I put on headphones, I turn off most of the lights, and I dedicate myself. That’s why I couldn’t play Knock Knock for more than a couple levels in a sitting – at a certain point, being that tense and freaked just wears me out. It’s great.
Knock Knock is the Kickstarted game from Russian studio Ice-Pick Lodge. It’s a survival/horror/puzzle game where you need to survive the night, and you do so by fixing broken lights, unlocking mysteriously locked doors, and hiding from the whispering monsters. Currently in its “Preview Build” stage, it has the occasional bug or typo, but the mechanics are all solid. Instructionally, I would have loved some more direction; it took a while for me to match effects to causes, and it got frustrating. As I played, though, I started to figure things out, which made me feel like I was connecting to the character more (who is, of course, as confused and scared as I am).
And the story! I’ve completed the game once, and I have no idea what’s going on. I get the impression that I finished the game without ‘winning’ it – I feel like I need to go back and play again. It’s given me enough tantalizing hints and pieces that I really want to know what’s going on. The game itself is surrounded by a kind of AR story thing; the studio says that the game idea wasn’t their own, but was emailed with an archive entitled “lestplay.” It, like the story, is vague, confusing, and frustratingly tantalizing.
Aesthetically, this game is amazing. Something about the animation really appeals to me; it’s well-done and stylistic, while somehow being really expressive and evocative. The monsters are creative, interesting, and even thought-provoking. Who is the crying girl, or the chained ghost? A guy with no head, a straightjacket, and a peg-leg that’s on a wheel – what part of his psyche is that supposed to be? And then you have the sounds – good lord. Their foley guy is an evil bastard who isn’t getting paid enough. Creaking doors, lights burning out, footsteps; more than once I pulled off my headphones to make sure the noises I was hearing weren’t from my own house. It’s brilliantly executed and tailored to freak me the hell out.
Tantalizing story, gorgeous art, and freaky realistic sounds aren’t the best part about Knock Knock. I’ve played a handful of horror/survival games, and all of them either wanted me to run through as quickly as possible, or to fight my way out. This game, by contrast, is all about waiting and hoping. It drew me in so far that as my character was cowering in a corner, I was trying to breathe silently and willing the timer to speed up, praying dawn would come before that monster with a laughing little girl’s voice found me. You can’t get out of it by being brave or clever; the only way to survive is to hide in corners and wait for dawn to come.
There’s a lot about the game that I don’t get, which frustrates me: the studio’s AR shtick, huge chunks of the story, some of the mechanics, and even the purpose of some of the levels. The gorgeous aesthetics help, but the saving grace is the game’s mechanic. It’s a puzzle with an element of chance; everything about it keeps me on edge. Playing Knock Knock, I’m a child in a dark, scary room; I’ve done everything I can, I can’t leave the bed because then the monster under the bed will get my feet, so all I can do is cower under the covers until it’s all over.