Review: Knock Knock (PC)

Knock-Knock
Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
Publisher: Ice-Pick Lodge
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 10/4/2013

Knock-Knock is the fourth release from Russia’s Ice-Pick Lodge. Ice-Pick Lodge is know for their psychologically tense, surreal games (the most well known being Pathologic and the most “friendly” appearing being Cargo). In my preview I gave a bit more information on Ice-Pick’s design philosophy. To summarize – Ice-Pick Lodge believes games are supposed to affect the player, to leave them changed. So, how is Knock-Knock? Well…

Knock-Knock’s premise is as follows: you’re The Lodger. You live in the deep woods, in a very large home, away from everyone. The Lodger has been having problems sleeping, as of late, and some unexplained phenomenon have been occuring. The nights have been long and unsettling, for The Lodger. He’s been drifting in and out of dreams. His grip on reality is tenuous, at best, and fallen at his worst. The game itself is a struggle between the imagined and the real. There are phantoms inviting themselves into The Lodger’s home. The Lodger must decide whether or not to face these visitors, or to seek a safe haven through hiding.

As you move The Lodger through his home, he notes that his house seems to change. One of the mechanics of the game is light. In the light, you can see. The light shows what is in the room and doesn’t hide things… or so it seems. Knock-Knock is entirely about challenging perception – of what is real and what is fantasy. The Lodger tells you things about his past and the world around him. The secret? He’s not a reliable narrator. It’s up to you to piece together what the game is about and the truth (or your truth) about what is going on in Knock-Knock.

The game itself revolves around the seemingly ever shifting home of The Lodger. The rooms are barren and the lights don’t work. Some rooms are locked and not easily accessible. You have the option to unlock doors and fix lights around the house. This allows The Lodger to “remember” how the room was decorated. He’ll close his eyes and the room’s decor will come into view. This will reveal either places to hide, decorations, or Lodger shaped clocks. The hiding places are used to stay away from the visitors that come into the house. The clocks? They move time forward towards the dawn. Dawn offers a reprieve to The Lodger. Eventually you’ll have to go out into the woods to investigate the forest that the Lodger lives in and, eventually, return to the home. The home never stays the same, or was it always like this?

The game drops you into the world, with The Lodger giving instructions wrapped in his own special brand of slipping reality. He explains why things happen through his cracking mind. You play Knock-Knock, but you aren’t the protagonist. You’re a third party, witnessing and assisting The Lodger through this entire incident. You’re always removed, yet drawn into, the world of Knock-Knock.

How is this done? Through the art and sound. Of the utmost importance, in my opinion, is playing Knock-Knock through either surround sound or a good pair of headphones. The audio is a crucial element of the game. The sound of ticking, the loud knocking, the jumbled language The Lodger uses, the voices (oh the voices) that sneak through the air… they are cornerstones of the experience. Knock-Knock is a game, yes, but it is also an experience. The creaking of the floor boards and the sound of things coming into reality make waiting all the more difficult. The familiar tones of fumbling with a door or light that you need to get working frustrate, but create anticipation. The game needs your full attention – to devote nothing less than as many senses as possible does both you and it a disservice. The music remains, the sounds remain, they all leave an imprint – which is what they wanted to do from the onset.

The problem I have with his review is trying not to reveal too much. One of Ice-Pick Lodge’s strengths is creating worlds that captivate and bring more than just a game mentality to the fore. You have to think, digest, and accept their games for what they are. In mulling over just why this lead to that, or why something is said the way it is you realize that the game has affected you – which is what any form of entertainment should strive to do, in my opinion.

Honestly, there is so much to say about this game, but so much that shouldn’t be said. The game itself has a cleverly simple control scheme. You move with the arrow keys and use the space bar and up or down to navigate the world. It’s relatively easy to play, but, as stated before, the complexity and interesting facets of the game come through reflection and piecing together what is going on with The Lodger and his world. I want to say more, I want to tell you about what I believe is going on. I want to share the thoughts and conclusions, theories and mind patterns, that came to me as I played… but I won’t. The best thing to do with Knock-Knock is play it fresh, unsullied. Let it crawl into your neuropathways and tumble around in your head.

The story is simple: there’s a person in a house who have things from somewhere come over to play a game of hide & seek. You can leave it at that, or you can try to piece together the symbolism and reality from the fragments that you find around the game. Nothing is as it seems, but everything is what it presents itself as.

The best thing I found? The cut-away scene art. Truly, the visuals are stylish and carry a dark, fable vibe. You can definitely see a more Eastern influence in some of the way things appear, but that adds to the alien nature of the world. 2D, cartoonish looks, mixed with items that look out of place help the atmosphere and the sense that there is more luking underneath.

I enjoyed my time with Knock-Knock very much, but I have so many questions left.

Short Attention Span Summary:

Knock-Knock’s strengths are it’s lore, world, visuals, and audio. It’s a psychological horror game that uses the primal fear of the dark and being hunted in its gameplay. It’s controls are relatively simple, but the game has some complexities that are revealed through cryptic use of storytelling. The pace or obfuscation of things may put people off. People should give it a try because the pluses outweigh the minuses. This is probably the second most accessible game IPL has put out (Cargo being the most accessible in my opinion).

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