Knock Knock: Who is there?
Updated: Feb 5
Remember that scene from Robert Wise’s The Haunting? You know the one with involving the door. So many emotions ran that scene, so many scares with what amounts to a banging door. It is a fine example of less is more. The Haunting is a fantastic examination between the supernatural and the possible madness of our protagonist. Knock Knock is exactly like that, a lot of door banging.
Knock Knock is a Lynchian fever dream come true. You are a hermit simply known as the Lodger, who keeps hearing strange things in the woods. Something is banging at the door. A sinister supernatural presence is trying to break into his house. Maybe something is already inside? Is there even anything inside the woods/house? Are you a stark raving lunatic? We don’t quite know because the Lodger doesn’t really know either.
I will talk about the Lodger in greater detail, he is fascinating. However I want to talk about thematic escalation of madness. How the dream world seem to blur and twist further and further with each passing dream. The forest gradually becomes over run with strange bundles of leaves and human appendages.
Your house starts out deserted before slowly getting overrun by ghosts and other horrors. Madness is a encroaching sickness that consumes and invades the every aspect of the Lodger’s existence. You feel just as helpless as the sleep deprived Lodger as a result. That you cannot escape from your own horrors in your own house.
Who is telling the truth?
The Lodger is very much an unreliable narrator. He mutters paranoid gibberish that often contradicts his back-story. He cannot remember where he goes most of the time and struggles to tell if he is dreaming. He is less of a knowingly unreliable protagonist (Humbert Humbert from Lolita) but one that does not know he is being unreliable.
He is just as confused and uncertain as we are. As a result of this the Lodger becomes rather effective at building that all important tension. We don’t know if someone has really stolen his diary or he simply lost it. There is not enough evidence that supports either interpretation.
A small but never the less effective means of putting us on edge. What is reality, are the ghosts even real and if so why would they take his dairy? These questions are never clearly answered but they do not need to be. It is all about placing the lingering sense of doubt into the player’s head about the Lodger’s perception.
Speaking about perception, there is also us, the player. We are treated as something of an illusion within the game itself. Whenever the Lodger muses and mutters (like the nutter he probably even is) the game freezes and he looks directly at us.
A strangely intimate event that grows all the more sinister as the game continues. We, as the player become on a Meta level a conduit for the Lodger’s innermost thoughts and fears. But we are also detached enough to see a man who cannot tell what is real. That in all reality we see a paranoid mentally disturbed man run around his house convinced that ghosts are invading.
When I realised that this might be the case (be it intentional or otherwise by Ice-Pick Lodge) I could not help feeling sorry for the guy. Being isolated from human contact for (supposedly) for his entire life is never healthy on mental health. As horrific as Knock Knock gets, there is a tragic tale of isolation and a downward spiral into paranoia under the surface.
Knock Knock is a side scroller split into two clear sections. One set in the so called real world . In that world you set find the clock required to set time forward. Then the door spookily opens and you wonder around the spooky woods to find some strange woman (more on that later).
The ‘nightmare section’ involves you going from room to room, trying to survive the night. You have to avoid the ghosts and other spooky things. As you go from room to room you turn on lights in order to see things. It is rather repetitive in the core game play. I will examine all of these in detail.
Wondering the woods
As said previously, the real world section has you wonder around the forest looking for a girl. The problem is that the forest is vast with multiple rows (you move forwards to another row or backwards). There is no good means of telling where the girl is.
As a result it is very difficult to find her without guess work. For a game that wants you to explore, it does not encourage you to explore very well. More so later in the game when there is a time limit. When you have to hunt down spooky girls. Then find your way home (with no indication of direction by the way).
It is annoying as if the timer runs out you get a game over. How is it fair to be expected to find two women then get back home before the time runs out with no solid visual or audio indication?
The girl cries out but it is difficult to tell where it is or how far it is. The house is even worse with no sound or shadow/horizon to tell someone where to go. This might be intentional, the sense of isolation and feeling of being lost. However either Ice Pick succeeded to too well or they got the lack of any sign posting confused with building a sense of loneliness.
Hide and seek
The second ‘nightmare’ section is rather repetitive in all honesty. Here every house is randomly generated (something of a problem, more on that later).
You go from one room to the next. Turning on lights, waiting for whatever objects to materialise then move onto the next room. As the night progresses creepier things come into house. It is your job to avoid them while trying to find the clocks to take time forward.
A simple enough set of mechanics, I like how you have to turn off the lights whenever you leave a room. A lit house might seem great but the ghosts have the ability to short circuit the lights. As a result you would be forced to repair them again, leaving you vulnerable.
At its best, Knock Knock is an intense game of trying to stay one step ahead of the ghosts. You can avoid the ghosts by minimising lit rooms, staying on the move and hiding.
Once you get into hiding the ghost will try to ‘find’ you. One fight with the controller later (the game goes into a first person perceptive where the camera will try to settle on the hiding place.
You have to keep the controller moving in order to prevent this.) However the game does have a bad habit of spawning ghosts and other spooks in rooms that you cannot escape from (dead end rooms).
Time is the cruelest
Knock Knock has a very bad habit of relying on the random number generator. As a result the difficulty curve can be over the place. Times when clocks (which speed up the nightmare, ending it quicker) (lol pun) spawn can sometimes be rare or too plentiful. Intense for the former and too easy for the latter.
There was one nightmare that gave me three clocks one after the other. It killed the atmosphere because the sense of danger was gone. I had the numbers on my side that time. Monster spawning can be a problem. Sometimes the game just places a ghost right in front of the only entrance and exist. Trapping me into a lose- lose situation. Dull at best and annoying at worst.
I can see what Ice-Pick were looking for with randomised events, provide a sense of helplessness and scavenging to survive. Knock Knock does sometimes succeed in this (lack of instant clocks) but also fails (over abundance of clocks). A good idea in theory with uneven results.
Art style and graphics:
The models themselves are very low graphical quality. It betrays the low budget behind the development. It is only a minor distraction however. The strange puppet show as-directed-by-Francis-Bacon aesthetic is striking. Knock Knock’s imagery is deliciously morbid with balls of leaves transforming into ghoulish nightmares. I quite love it
Knock Knock is an enjoyably creepy little game. It is strange and unsettling at times but as horror games go, it isn’t the most intense of experiences (for me at least).
Knock Knock can be seen as an entry into the genre. A transition period between the more overtly horrific experiences (Outlast, Hellblade and Silent Hill 2). If you want something that is decently well made and creepy, then consider picking this up. It is cheap even without a discount.
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Edit: 5/02/2020: removed needless words.