by Holden Kosàly-Meyer | Staff Writer
Russian game developer Ice Pick Lodge is known for making games that, while interesting and imaginative, range in playability from “kind of frustrating” to “impossibly broken.” Nevertheless, they have developed something of a cult following, and were able to raise just enough money on Kickstarter to fund and distribute their latest game, Knock-knock.
The central conceit of the game, as the Kickstarter website and opening credits remind you, is that Ice Pick Lodge did not come up with it. Instead, the design document for the game was sent to Ice Pick Lodge in an anonymous email begging the developers to finish the game that the sender had started. Whether this story is true or not, it adds a sense of mystery and horror not only to playing the game, but even owning it.
Functionally, Knock-knock acts as a game of hide and seek, with you doing both the hiding and the seeking. You play as “the Lodger,” a rather grumpy-looking fellow living in a house in the woods who suffers from insomnia, night terrors, and hallucinations that might not be hallucinations at all. The monsters haunting the Lodger disappear at daybreak, so all he has to do is survive the night. There is a snag, however: every night, in this house, time stops. To restart time, the Lodger is forced to explore the house, searching for clocks. By moving the clock-hands manually, the Lodger is able to re-start the passage of time and thereby end the night. On top of all that, the house’s layout changes each night, so a new round of exploration is required.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Knock-knock trends to the more playable end of the Ice Pick Lodge spectrum. The controls function solidly enough and it’s easy to get into the groove of entering a room, repairing a light and waiting for your eyes to adjust. However, there are still a host of issues that make playing it a bit of a pain. When the “hallucinations” start wandering the house, they are practically impossible to avoid. Turning on a light will make them temporarily disappear, but the light will short out and, if there happens to be another phantom just out of the light’s range, may take too long to fix. The game’s progression is unfocused, and it’s hard to tell when one level starts and another begins. The Lodger also frequently stops the action to speak directly to the player for a minute or two in his weird nonsense language.
Frustrating as this all is, it fits into the narrative of the game’s origins as a mysterious, possibly cursed set of documents in a weird email. And, along with the cartoonish yet creepy art style and excellent use of sound design, it adds to the unsettling nature of the game more than it takes away from the gameplay experience. If you’re looking for an interesting game, and aren’t afraid of possibly being cursed, Knock-knock provides at least one of those things.
Knock-knock is available for download at SteamPowered.com. Learn more about the game here.