Knock Knock

Fans of the horror and puzzle game genres may be thrilled to know that there is an Indie title that has managed to slip mostly under the radar- a title which is well worth a look.

Knock Knock is a mostly 2D platformer that gives you control of a character known as the Lodger- a slightly crazed tenant living in an empty house, eluded by sleep and disturbed by the happenings occurring in the dark of the night. His thoughts are dark and his own notebook scrawlings haunt him as if written by a stranger. His only solace is to walk the rooms of his house, fixing the ever faulty light bulbs and unlocking doors which inexplicably lock themselves. If he can only restore his home to order maybe, just maybe, he will see the dawn again…
Developer Ice-Pick Lodge received an email which challenged them to create a game that was different from what was currently on the market- something original and new. But I’ll let them explain:

In late November, 2011, a strange and troubling event has happened to our studio. We have received an anonymous e-mail which suggested that we should produce some "unconventional" game based upon the materials attached to the letter. Such offers are a dime a dozen and most of the time they barely deserve any attention at all, however, this one seemed quite different.

The attachment contained a set of 19 files added to an archive titled "lestplay". The files (snippets of text, scraps of audio recording, video footage fragments) as well as the style and wording of the message itself appeared to be rather disturbing. The surface examination did not reveal anything straightforwardly terrifying, yet we could not escape the feeling that something truly sinister was lurking underneath.”

Long story short, a Kickstarter was funded and this is the result.

Knock Knock is set in deep dark woods where a lone Lodger resides in an empty, dusty and somewhat spooky old house. He informs us over time that the house belonged to his father, and his father before him, three generations of Lodgers whose work led them to explore their surroundings- the woods around the house, the environment and the animals who live there- to study them. He notes that over time the woods have gone from something that flourishes to something that is quite desolate and almost evil.
But the Lodger has more direct concerns- he’s haunted every night by sleeplessness and lonesomeness. He’s ever aware of an impending threat, be it from within his mind or from the dark house around him. He believes he’s not alone. He keeps a notebook where he writes down his thoughts. Over time these thoughts begin to sound like someone else’s instead of his own and they challenge him to play a game- the rules he knows very little about and are often riddled posing more questions than they answer.

Every night the challenge for the Lodger is to last til dawn, because once the sun rises the monsters in his head disappear and the world is safe again.

We are introduced to our character and told to ensure his house is safe before he can go back to sleep. So you set around the house fixing lights and unlocking doors to check each room. In his sleep deprived state the Lodger is almost delusional but as he regains his composure in a safe room the space begins to slowly fill again with belongings and furnishings that are his own and some semblance of sanity is restored. You move around the house fixing lights, but as you move doors slam themselves shut and light fittings continue to break giving you the eerie feeling that someone is there with you and that something isn’t quite right. You’ve got to keep moving if you want to be safe and ensure the house is secure.

On a very basic level this game feels a lot like maintenance- endlessly fixing lights and doors as you shuffle around- but on a much larger level you are ever aware that you are not alone, that some kind of poltergeist is there with you. A few levels in you begin to see some of the poltergeist characters that either seek or hide, challenging you to a game to either find them or be found. Some of these characters are visible and others are invisible, some are only visible in the light and others only in the dark lending a complexity to the way the game is played. Each chapter issues you with a new challenge- a new kind of hide and seek game where the rules change and not usually for your benefit. In following these rules, or choosing not to follow them if you dare to do so, your goal is always to last until dawn.

As levels go they get more complex and challenging, and you find it harder and harder to walk around the house fixing those lights. The lights attract unwanted attention. The game offers you ways of dealing with this- turn the lights on to attract attention or divert a poltergeists attention from you, secure a room but not stay put, hide but receive a time penalty.
A clock sits in your top left corner of the screen and is the measure of your success. In the easier levels it will simply fill as time goes on and you survive. In harder levels the clock can be halted by the poltergeist and it’s up to you to figure out how to get it moving again- because if it doesn’t move then dawn will never arrive. If you last long enough you will be offered a time bonus which will fast forward your clock toward dawn.

The mechanics are simple and the game is presented in a mostly 2D style, with the outside woodlands becoming multi-levelled 2D. Inside the house you are moving left and right from room to room, and climbing and descending ladders to access additional storeys and rooms. Once you get outside in the woodlands you can move through a side scrolling landscape or move forwards and backwards through a 4 level landscape. The woodlands do not seem to have a great deal of purpose and is pretty bland, but it does enable you to move from one level to another if you chose to do so, and if you look hard enough you might find the girl in white who you can carefully approach for a kind of reward- a fragment. Fragments can also be accessed via portals/rifts- giant eye like beasts that appear periodically in the house and otherwise need to be shut down.

Sound is greatly important in Knock Knock and as the difficulty increases you will depend on it to move around safely. Depending on the kind of game you are playing- you will either be listening to voice cues from the poltergeist that warn you of what is coming, or if they are trying to trick you then you will need to decipher which cues to trust and which to ignore. In still other game styles, it’s the silence you will depend on- even the slight shuffling of your feet will alert a poltergeist to your location, so you must only step if it’s absolutely necessary. Slamming doors or breaking fittings tell you that a poltergeist is moving somewhere even when they are not visible. With all this information the house becomes a puzzle of many moving pieces that you need to interpret and safely avoid, moving from room to room and floor to floor.
The map is presented as a kind of dream, a swirling street with all the houses dotting the street and hand drawn monsters at its core speaking to a kind of descent into madness. The map is a little confusing and can be difficult to manoeuvre around. While successfully completing each puzzle in the order given will move you through smoothly, choosing to manually move from house to house will result in missed puzzles and it’s difficult to know where to go to retry them.

Here’s the confusing part- while each of these houses are different they’re also the same…get that? Let me explain- Each new puzzle house will have a different configuration- more or less rooms, different shapes and combinations- and this lends itself well to providing a fresh challenge for each game. But as the Lodger secures a room, closes his eyes to still himself and then opens them again, his belongings slowly start to reappear and a once bare and scary room will start to feel safer again. Once furnishings reappear in a room they stay, so even as you move on to the next house, the furnishings that belong to that room will stay and be added to until the room is complete again.
The graphic style of Knock Knock is very broody and dark and suits the game well. It does give you a sense of unease and the sound is efficient at delivering a subtle creep factor. While Knock Knock is enticing, challenging and intriguing, it is not a jump scare kind of game- we’re talking consistent levels of unsettled rather than a shocking horror game.

Knock Knock has been around for a little while now via Steam and is now playable on Xbox One, PS4, and PSVita with a planned move to iOS in the near future. But be aware that it may only be available via the US store if you’re planning to buy, so keep that in mind.
Knock Knock is a neat and tidy indie title that will keep you on your toes and is well worth a look if horror puzzle RPGs are your style.

Ahhh dawn....finally...


Remutha, or Rem, has been writing for 8 years. Combining this with a love of video games Rem has been writing game reviews for 2 years.

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