Also On: PC, PS4
Publisher: Ice-Pick Lodge
Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
I don't ask for or expect a lot out of games when it comes to their narratives. Seeing as I play so many of them, I should probably be a little more discerning and demanding, but I'm willing to overlook any number of flaws when it comes to character development, or pacing, or tone, or nearly any other key narrative component. In fact, there's only one thing I consider essential: that the game's world have a consistent internal logic. It can be completely ridiculous or wacky or unrealistic, but there needs to be some kind of understandable causality at work. And unfortunately, that can't be said about Knock-Knock.
This is unfortunate, because in every other area, it's fantastic. The core of the game is that you're playing hide and seek with some malevolent being, and you need to make it to sunrise in order to survive. As premises go, that's pretty top-notch, and Knock-Knock is great at ratcheting up its inherent tension with all kinds of squeaks and knocks and disembodied voices. This game knows how to leave you feeling pretty unsettled, which is obviously a critical component of any horror game.
Similarly, the game's visual aesthetic is pretty unnerving. Environments are lit by candles and moonlight, which means that, most of the time, you're only seeing a shadowy fraction of what's around you, as darkness reaches in towards your disheveled main character. On top of that, Knock-Knock is set in a world where everything — from the finger-like branches of the trees around your house, to the decrepit bed that sits in your dingy bedroom, to the weird stains on the walls, to the bricked-up windows and doors — has a sinister vibe. If you can look at this game and not come away with the heebie-jeebies, you're a braver person than I.
Even the gameplay works pretty well, to a point. Your interactions with the game mainly consist of slowly screwing in new lightbulbs and painstakingly unlocking doors, and then hoping there aren't monsters or spirits lurking nearby. To a point, it's pretty effective.
But once you pass that point, Knock-Knock falls apart. It never really tells you what to do, for starters. The main character speaks to himself/you in cryptic muttering, half-explaining what you're supposed to do, but never enough that you'll fully get it. Likewise, one of the disembodied voices gives you hints, but it's never clear what you're supposed to do with those, since the game can't decide if those voices are supposed to be looking after you or out to get you. With no obvious tells either way, you're at the mercy of evil spirits just randomly showing up and making you start the level over again.
As you can imagine, this gets pretty infuriating pretty quickly. One of the trademarks of any good horror narrative is that the antagonists always play by certain rules; when they don't — as is the case here — it becomes an exercise in randomness. While that may be truer-to-life, as Knock-Knock shows, it makes for a much less satisfying gaming experience.