Knock Knock, from Ice-Pick Lodge, is a 2D side scrolling horror game with gameplay resembling a horror filled game of hide-and-seek. The core objective of the game is to survive for a set amount of time, while traversing through rooms in a randomly generated house, fixing the lights and avoiding any monsters along the way.
Every time you survive these dream sequences, the main character wakes back up in the real world, with a new room added to his house and a clock to move time a little bit more forward, with the ultimate goal of reaching the morning so he can wake up completely.
The art style is very creepy, and lends itself well to building the atmosphere of the game. Roaming the house can get tense, particularly in the later game when the threats are more abundant. Loud knocking, and creepy whispers from “the guests” trying to find you kept me on edge through the whole game, even after I got a good handle on the game mechanics.
The monster design is simple, and yet effective, and seeing these creepy things pop up behind you while you are creeping around in the dark led to some surprisingly frightening moments, without needing to focus on jumpscares.
As you turn the lights back on in the house, the rooms start to fill up with objects to hide behind, or clocks to help speed up time. As the game goes on you will also start to receive notes from the main character’s journal, and as time goes on he begins to question his own sanity as he finds pages not written by him.
While the game has a unique, and wholly enjoyable, premise, it is severely brought down by its design choices. While there is a little tutorial on the core mechanics, the rest of the game lacks any clear explanation, and instead expects players to figure things out through trial and error mostly. The main character will occasionally have dialog that explains things somewhat, but there are still many times when something would happen and I would have no clue why.
This lead to a point at the end of a game when I was stuck in a fail state, with no explanation as to why, or clarification that I could not progress further. Instead I was met with the games normal game over screen with the ability to continue back where I was. After spending a good half an hour trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, I eventually had to look it up only to find out that I could not progress further and would have to restart the game to get a true ending.
Apparently, I ended up in that position because I did something wrong earlier, without the game telling me that. This is a frustrating issue, especially since it could be easily fixed. The fact that this “ending” is essentially nothing more than a game over screen adds to the overall confusion I felt.
Upon researching my issue, which I thought was bugged, I learned of three different endings, one of which, the good ending, requires players to go through a pretty obscure series of events. Like much of the game this is never clearly explained, and average players like me could easily miss it without looking at a guide.
At the end of the day Knock Knock was a mixed bag for me, I loved its unique gameplay premise, and its art and atmosphere knocked it out of the park in my opinion. Unfortunately, the game is severely held back by its needlessly obtuse mechanics, made even more confusing by an easy to achieve “ending” being nothing more than an unexplained game over.
What could have been a truly unique and great outlier in the horror genre, just ends up feeling like the foundation for something better, that never quite reaches its potential. The myriad of game design flaws end up holding this good game back from being a great game. 6/10
*This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, it is also available for PC and PS4*