The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
When developer Ice-Pick Lodge first proposed Knock-Knock on Kickstarter,
it offered an enticing vision of unique gameplay mechanics, randomized environments,
and a mysterious story, all wrapped in a gorgeous visual package. After a year
of development, the indie game's release leaves much of the promising pitch on
the cutting-room floor. While the art style lives up to expectations and the
narrative contains plenty of mystery (too much, actually), playing Knock-Knock simply
isn't much fun.
In the same way that B-movie horror films try to mask their
low production values with tongue-in-cheek campiness, Ice-Pick Lodge explains
away Knock-Knock's half-baked game design and barebones narrative with a bizarre
bit of meta-game fiction. An opening message warns players that Knock-Knock
isn't a "game" per se, but rather an "interactive meditation" that the
developer pieced together based on instructions from an anonymous benefactor. The
message also warns that the game's "many strange things and unclear moments"
are (conveniently) due to those mysterious design requirements. While Ice-Pick
Lodge's explanation of the game's flaws and limitations is certainly novel, it doesn't
earn the developer a pass for failing to balance the gameplay, flesh out the
mechanics with some much-needed variety, or craft a meaningful narrative.
Knock-Knock's gameplay is dreadfully simple. As the
pajama-clad protagonist, your task is to shuffle around an increasingly complex
series of randomly generated houses, opening doors and flipping on and off
light switches to check for monsters as you wait for dawn to arrive. Monsters
spawn randomly in certain rooms during the night, requiring you to either hide
behind furniture or move to other areas of the house. If one catches you, more
time is added to the countdown, taking you further away from dawn. Get caught too
many times, and you'll have to replay the level.
If Knock-Knock sounds like an interesting twist on the
tower-defense genre, it isn't. While you spend your nights patrolling the house,
you aren't actually increasing your defenses, as your actions have no
discernible or repeatable effect on where or when monsters spawn. You also
don't have any offensive or defensive capabilities, so there's not much you can
do other than continue creeping through rooms and hoping that a shadowy specter
doesn't spawn nearby (or directly on top of you, as is sometimes the case).
It doesn't take long for more flaws in the formula to emerge.
Waiting ends up being the main mechanic, and although you can find clocks that
speed up time by scanning rooms, they often lead to running into more monsters,
limiting their usefulness. Most of the levels aren't big enough to offer alternate
routes for avoiding enemies, which often pop up so quickly that your sluggish
protagonist doesn't have time to hide or escape anyway. Some monsters can spot
you even when you're hiding, leaving you with no other option but to run away –
usually right into a dead end.
The futility of your actions is underscored by a smattering
of infuriating outdoor sequences, which task you with wandering through the
woods until you meet whatever random (and unexplained, naturally) criteria is
required for progressing to the next level. Maybe the player is meant to use
these segments as an opportunity to meditate on the purposefully obscure story
that the game barfs at you via note scraps and the garbled gibberish of the
protagonist, but I didn't find them challenging, engaging, or remotely frightening.
That's true of the main levels as well; aside from a few
jumps caused by loud noises and flashes of lightning, Knock-Knock is rarely
scary. Some of the monster designs are creepy looking, but they disappear as
soon as they touch you – half the time I never even saw what attacked me.
Without any kind of meaningful setup or room for strategy, Knock-Knock's horror
elements fall flat. I just found myself hoping the level would randomly spawn
more clocks than monsters, and frustrated when it didn't.
Knock-Knock offers players two different endings based on
how quickly they finish the game, neither of which provides any kind of
satisfying conclusion or explanation as to what the heck is going on in the
game. Ultimately, Ice-Pick Lodge is right; Knock-Knock isn't much of a game –
or a story, for that matter – which makes it hard to recommend.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.