Power Hour Reviews are a new NYMG feature in which we spend one intense hour playing newly released games in order to get a sense not only of game mechanics and characterization, but narrative as well. Let us spend our time first, so that you don’t have to waste yours.
The thing about giving over a single hour to a game is that sometimes it’s just not enough time to get a real feel for anything, but with other games, an hour is all you need to figure out if something’s up your alley or not. With Knock-Knock, the crowdfunded adventure/horror/jesus-god-what-is-going-on title from Ice-Pick Lodge, an hour is hardly time to figure out up from down, but in this case? That’s part of the point. And after an hour, I don’t know much, but I do know this: I’ll be going back for more.
Knock-Knock is all about guiding a…troubled (possibly batshit) insomniac “world-ologist” through long nights in a nightmare forest where dreaming and waking overlap. Objective? Stay alive through the night, basic enough. Rules? Figure ‘em out as you go alone. Controls? Simple side-scrolling, with more actions introduced as you need them. Change light bulbs, check on the integrity of your house, explore…
…and get whisked away to another house, and another, traipsing through the forest in between in-house adventures, and oh, mind the ghosts.If challenged to come up with but one word to describe Knock-Knock, it would be anxiety. I spent my gameplay hunched over the keyboard, eyes wide, mildly horrified at all times and certain terrible things were about to happen to everyone, including me, even though absolutely nothing happened in that first hour beyond a few weird sound affects and the appearance of ghostly apparitions.
Little is static here. Just when you think you’ve got a grip on things, the game shifts wholly — sometimes to a new location, sometimes to a location that seems impossible (though when dreams and reality collide, anything is possible). That feeling of creeping horror was the only stable touchstone for me, and I found the game positively arresting. The visuals are simple but immersive, and even repetitive elements (like the trees in the outdoor moments) felt suited to the story. The sound, however, is where this game really shines. Creepy creaks and moans, the sounds of twigs breaking underfoot in the woods, disembodied voices calling out, and the protagonist’s own Simlish-Jawa mashup dialogue combine to create a hair-raising experience.
There are moments too that feel like sly asides to gamers, when our hero spouts something in his freaky little voice, like, “Long periods alone are bad for the psyche,” or tells us it’s best to sleep during the predawn hours, and while these statements fit the story, they’re also a wink and a nudge to the player sitting alone at a computer at four in the morning. And when they’re delivered by an unblinking guy in a scarf who is forever watching you, the message feels like it might be that we’re all one bad dream away from a total break.
Perhaps that adds to the anxiety.
Knock-Knock is available on Steam for $9.99, and at that price, I recommend giving it a shot.