Wot I Think: Knock, Knock

By Jim Rossignol on October 9th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.


Knock, Knock, Ice Pick Lodge’s Kickstarted side-scrolling psychological weird-cake, has been released. I have played it. Here’s Wot I Think.


Knock, Knock is a difficult and annoying game to explain or describe, and that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say. It does not meet with any genre conventions, at least not in a way that really makes sense or offers easy shorthand. It’s awkward and brilliant, like sitting down in the cinema to watch something difficult and Modern. While it’s a 2D, side-scrolling game, it doesn’t do much that other side-scrolling games do.

It’s closer to a survival horror game, but it’s also unlike any of those that I have ever played. If we must persist with the failed Venn-diagram of genres, then it sits very close to part where Adventure, Survival Horror, and Side-Scrolling Action meet, but it is outside all of those circles.

And it cannot sleep.

Here’s the scene: the protagonist, a wild-haired, wild-eyed young man, wakes in the night. Again. And again. He’s worried that things might have come into the house. He needs to check the lights in the house, and eventually all the rooms, to make sure everything is in order. When the lights are on, our hero can stand and muse for a moment, which causes furniture to materialise. Furniture is important because the nightmare phantoms that he imagines are invading the house do eventually turn up, and the only way he has to escape them is to get to another room, or to hide. All the time he is talking, sometimes making sense, often not.


And the things do some in, or appear on the dark, or do you cause them? Something happens. If you get caught, well, it’s a bad thing. But the level just restarts. Doesn’t seem all that bad. But it’s awful. And you can’t always hide.

Horrible.

This peculiar routine is repeated over and over, and each night the house is larger and randomised. There’s experimenting to see what the hell is going on. You can occasionally fast-forward time to get the night done, thanks to clocks, but they run out. They break. The horrors come, and hiding winds time back.

Sometimes the front door slams open, and you go down and go outside. When you come back inside again you are able to sleep. Occasionally the camera crash zooms away to another part of the sinister house, to some new and horrible room, to give you an idea of what needs to be done.

And that’s pretty much it: walk around the house with a lamp or flashlight, mutter madness, avoid shambling horrors in the dark. But it escalates. You can’t always hide from these things. And the house is breaking down, with eyes coming through the walls. The entire game is an unreliable narrator: Yes, some of this is a hallucination, but those monsters are still going to get you.

It’s a horrible feeling of a game. You are helplessly ascending an elevator towards an attic full of spiders. The audio screeches and bangs all around you, and the situations in which you might get caught by whatever those things are become all the more nailbiting.

What I can’t articulate adequately is that, despite its limited game-ness, despite it’s weird set up, it is a fascinating and tense experience. It’s not a big game, and the experience does not last more than a few hours, but the atmosphere it creates is singular and skin-crawling. The game blames you for the horrors that are getting into the house, and even though I was never able to figure out exactly what it was I was doing wrong – if anything – I did begin to feel at fault.

Knock, Knock, then is a game that intentionally inspires anxiety. Not jump-scares or threat from simply being vulnerable to monsters, but something that reaches a bit deeper. That’s a mean feat.


As a long-term sufferer of insomnia and the brain mash of unslept nights, I am familiar with the unease of being awake in the late hours, and even as I have grown into a cranky old man, unfearing of much aside from tax and hangovers, I still get glimmers of those childish fears of what the night might really be about. This, perhaps, is what Knock, Knock is about, too. It’s not the game of keeping the horrors out of the house, it is instead an attempt to reach the dark roots from which grow superstition and ritual. It is about the breakdown of reason that underlies so many fears. It is a game as much about horror as it is of horror.

As for the consumer advice part of this article, well, this isn’t a game I can really recommend, but that’s not to say that it’s not brilliant. Eve Online is brilliant, but I would never recommend anyone play that. Likewise – but in an entirely different haunted ballpark – I can say that this is a game that will just alienate and confuse many people. Others, meanwhile, will have their soul tapped, and they’ll never forget it. You need to figure out which of those types you are.

It’s an Ice-Pick Lodge game. And it might be the finest game of theirs since Pathologic. And in some respects better than that masterweird, too.

I can’t tell whether you’ll like it.

But you might.

Knock, Knock is out now.

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57 Comments »

  1. Choca says:

    So many scary games, so little balls.

  2. GameCat says:

    If you like horrors this game is must play.

    • brat-sampson says:

      This game wont make you scream, and it’ll probably make you confused and maybe a little frustrated at first. But it’ll also make you feel like some part of your soul is being clenched in a vice, and the *only* thing you can do is wait it out and hope for sunrise.

      • GameCat says:

        Jump scares are for pussies. Real horrors doesn’t use such cheap tricks to invoke fear.

        • Mirqy says:

          Boo!

        • tnzk says:

          Real horrors do use jump scares, to brilliantly terrifying effect. In fact, horror has historically relied on cheap thrills to satiate the masses.

          The only difference between the best of horror and the worst, is that the best can underline their big shocks with underlying dread.

        • SavageTech says:

          While I agree that jump scares are so overused that it’s tempting to dismiss them entirely, I think that “real” horror can still use jump scares. What a lot of creators seem to ignore is that:

          1) A jump scare isn’t scary unless you’ve already given the audience a solid dose of psychological horror. If a jump scare is used in any other context it’s only startling, and being startled is generally more annoying than scary.
          2) You only get one or two jump scares before the gimmick becomes incredibly ineffective. If they’re used too often then the audience will expect them, largely nullifying their impact. However, if you drop a jump scare in the middle/end of a work that otherwise doesn’t use them, that scare can have devastating effect because the audience won’t know if more are coming.

          Though Knock Knock doesn’t have any of the cheesy jump scares that a lot of games like to use, it certainly made me jump while scaring me. The camera and enemy mechanics conspire to make it easy for enemies to sneak up on you if you aren’t careful, an event which can make you shit a brick thanks to the game’s creepy atmosphere.

    • Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

      Even if you don’t like horrors, like me, Knock-Knock might be very much worth playing.

  3. lordcooper says:

    This is likely to remain my GOTY, I’d heartlessly encourage anyone who can handle a little weirdness to give it a try.

  4. fuggles says:

    It seems to be a long standing trend with Icepick that their games are brilliant, but can’t be really recommended to people! I absolutely adored the Void, but will many people enjoy it? Probably not, it was a beautiful stress headache for several hours. This looks fabulous and is cheap and hopefully runs on the laptop, I’ll just wait until next week when it’s allegedly out on other formats than steam (not on the laptop, don’t ask)

    • lordcooper says:

      For what it’s worth, this is easily the most polished game they’ve put out to date.

    • Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

      The performance is good. The game runs on high settings on old Intel graphics.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Ask, and ye shall receive….http://www.gog.com/game/knock_knock

    • Jalan says:

      The Void was a textbook example of art trumping things like fun/sane gameplay. I like that IPL acknowledged it for the flawed thing of wonder it is/was but deep down I’ll always wonder how fantastic it could have been if they managed it correctly from the start.

  5. realitysconcierge says:

    It sounds like this really needs a demo >:(

    I love how mad the main character looks though.

    • frightlever says:

      Or, alternatively, a demo will kill their sales because people will either get enough from the demo or realise this isn’t the game for them. I suspect it’s not going to amuse even the people who like it for all that long. Could be wrong of course but you know how you sometimes install a game, play it for an hour, think it’s terrific, fresh and exciting and then never go back to it? Just me, huh?

  6. Shazbut says:

    I swear to God these guys are geniuses.

  7. Premium User Badge Sunjumper says:

    The game is utterly fascinating.
    It did not work on me. I think.

    For the most part I was mildly confused at what to do and most of the time I was just ‘playing’ it to get a bit further.
    Despite it being repetitive and obscure I did play through the game unti reaching its end (?) on the same day I got it. For me at last the ending was utterly anti-climatic.

    While it did not scare me or made me feel uncomfortable, the worst it did was make me roll my eyes when I had to redo a lvel for the fourth or fifth time, I do feel like I am missing something important about it.
    Maybe I was playing it wrong? Did I miss important clues?

    What the game does very well is give the player a feeling of confusion, so even if what I expirienced is all there is to it, it still haunts me not with terror but with the niggling feeling that I have missed something vitaly important, which I think is a first for me with computer games.

  8. strangeloup says:

    Finally, a game character I can successfully cosplay.

    Also, could we have a parseable version of this sentence? “And the things do some in, or appear on the dark, or do you cause them?”

    Unless you’re trying to evoke Pathologic‘s translation, in which case, well played.

    • Premium User Badge VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      I think “the things do some in” is a typo for “the things do come in”, and “appear on the dark” for “appear in the dark”.

    • :ghiacciato says:

      I also had an association with Pathologic when reading that sentence, and thought Jim was making a rather cunning and brilliant cross-reference – but alas, VelvetFistIronGlove’s explanation seems solid enough. I still vote for it being kept the way it is, though.

  9. forddent says:

    My first experience with this game was all by myself (my housemates were out of town for the weekend) in a dark house in a dark room. The first time I turned on a light to find there was something with me that I hadn’t noticed, I am not ashamed to say I let out a bellow of surprise and jumped backwards.

    I lasted about twenty minutes before I quit out and got up and turned all the lights on. It’s unnerving, and even in later sessions with the lights on (or in the afternoon!), with other people (and a dog) in the house, it still manages to be quietly terrifying.

    This game uses sound design like a weapon, and the haunted girl’s voice mocking you for being bad at the game, combined with the low grumbling distorted voice telling you how delicious your fear tastes or whatever just keeps piling on the pressure until you’re jumping at every little creak, and even your footsteps sound suspicious.

    I am stuck on a particular level, because I keep getting cornered and then I panic and wind up getting caught, because I am TERRIBLE at this game, though I love it so.

  10. MarkB says:

    I think it’s brilliant how they make the player behave in ritualistic ways by not fully explaining the game mechanics. By the end I had a handle on most of the mechanics, but I was still doing things that might have been pointless and I would get pretty stressed if those rituals were disrupted.

    The game also does a great job of making certain areas feel haunted. I neglected a corner of the house for a long time in one of the later levels. When I finally decided I should go in there it was seriously stressful.

    The only other Ice Pick Lodge game I’ve played is the Void and that also made effective use of incompletely explained mechanics, is this a common technique for them?

    • Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

      The only other Ice Pick Lodge game I’ve played is the Void and that also made effective use of incompletely explained mechanics, is this a common technique for them?

      I played all of their games, and this is very typical of them. They give some tips, but leave it up to you to gradually discover how their worlds operate. And neither do they spell out the moral of the story nor tell you how you are supposed to feel.

      • MarkB says:

        I think it’s a pretty brilliant game design approach. While there are alot of games that don’t explain everything for you I think Ice Pick Lodge takes it to another level. Particularly in The Void were you are given actively bad advice. I love the ambiguous morals as well.

        Out of curiosity, what did you think of Cargo? I’ve already decided to play Pathologic, but I don’t know how I feel about Cargo. Particularly in light of RPS’s somewhat lukewarm WIT.

        • Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

          Oh, dear. Make it “all of their games except Cargo”. I don’t think I ever accepted that they made this game. Just completely forgot about it. But some of my friends tried it and none were too impressed.

          • Muzman says:

            It isn’t often I’d say this but that’s one where they would have been better suppressing their usual artistic tendencies a little bit more.
            I believe a little hand hold and spit shine by a Rare or Naughty Dog and that would have been an utter classic.

          • MarkB says:

            Haha I forgot about it as well. Only remembers it existed when I checked wikipeida to see if IPL made anything before Pathologic.

            I find myself drawn to Cargo, but I think I will hold off, at least until I play through Pathologic.

    • Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

      The difference between this and The Void is that with this I feel I can still progress without having a clue what is going on, whereas The Void I felt that what I was doing wrong was going to completely hamper any progress (and indeed this was true).

      • MarkB says:

        Indeed. I think the Void pulling the rug out from underneath the player is super cool now, but at the time it nearly killed my interest in the game. Knock knock manages to make use of poorly understood mechanics in a much less aggravating way.

  11. Premium User Badge JiminyJickers says:

    You’ve convinced me, grabbed it from GOG. I don’t like scary games, because I’m a scaredy cat, but this seems like I can push myself past the fear.

  12. trjp says:

    I can’t be bothered with horror games as a rule – I dislike jump-scares (which is why Project Zero on PS2 is the greatest horror game ever IMO) but the trailer for this is VERY intriguing – it’s VERY well put together.

    • SavageTech says:

      If you liked Project Zero I’d venture a guess that you’d like Knock Knock.

      Knock Knock doesn’t have jump scares, at least not in the way that they are (ab)used in most horror games. You can certainly get blindsided by the enemies and jump in (or out of) your seat, but the game abstains from the overwrought “play a loud sound accompanied by a fast-moving image for TEH INSTANT SCURRYNESS” shit. It’s more of a “make a creepy environment and just let the player’s mind scare itself” kind of game.

  13. Premium User Badge LTK says:

    What makes Knock-Knock so effective is that it exploits everyday irrational fears. Other horror games may make you afraid of being horribly murdered by a creature made entirely of knives and spiders, but that’s not something that anyone can expect to encounter in their everyday lives.

    Knock-Knock says that if you think about something bad happening, it will come true. It tells you that things can come into your house in the night. It makes you believe that you can make your fears become reality. It says that the nightmares will pass, but that there will be something waiting for you when you wake up.

    The entire game is like a journey through the mind of a severely damaged individual. What you see in this game, there are people for whom all this is a reality, something they suffer through every day. I think that’s the scariest thing about it.

    • trjp says:

      That’s an awesome write-up – they should pay you for that one – well done there!!

      • Premium User Badge LTK says:

        Thanks. It’s really an ambiguous game, which makes me feel so compelled to analyse it and write about it.

    • realitysconcierge says:

      I really like the way you explained that and can’t wait for more games to explore this avenue more.

  14. Premium User Badge The Sombrero Kid says:

    You either like Ice Pick Lodge games or you don’t.

  15. PopeRatzo says:

    I’m sorry to be off-topic, but I’m hoping RPS does a review of the Gas Guzzlers Extreme game from Gamespires. I was a big fan of the previous Gas Guzzlers Combat Carnage and I just bought the new game, which took me by surprise on Steam, today.

    I’m the guy who’s always bitching about there not being any good arcade racers, and here’s a little company (I think Eastern European) who seems to understand the genre. Maybe if they get successful enough, they’ll do an open-world arcade racer like BurnoutParadise someday.

  16. Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

    This is the first game I supported on Kickstarter to come out. Very pleased with the way it turned out.

  17. driveninhifi says:

    I enjoyed this one a ton. It’s definitely an Ice-Pick Lodge project, if you’ve played their other games. There aren’t many developers that can evoke a theme or mood like these guys. It’s almost relentless.

    Now I’m curious to know if their frame-story is actually true or not (they claim the idea for the game came from an email with an attachment containing creepy sounds, images, etc).

  18. Kein says:

    For those who confused – don’t be. I was fooled by RPS constantly creaming themselves over IcePick Lodge and their possible/future game (haha) for no apparent to me reason. Knock-knock is quite boring ad repetitive game with very inconsistent atmosphere and not so well-thought gameplay . I can’t say it is bad, but it does not live up to all the hype it was surrounded with at all.

    I suggest you to play Illuminator (http://www.l-ames.com/logan/illuminator.zip) instead.

  19. JThomasAlbert says:

    This game strongly reminded me of a minor ordeal I went through when I was younger. I had recurring dreams about wandering through an endless sprawling house. The rooms were cluttered with random things, not always furniture. Some rooms and halls had no lights in them and would get frighteningly dark. Sometimes when I doubled back trying to retrace my steps I would find the layout had changed behind me.

    I would sometimes see windows or doors that led outside, but they were always securely locked and reinforced making it impossible to leave. There were hidden passages. I recall one particularly alarming dream where an entire staircase slid over and changed direction like a stack of blocks, closing off the hall I had just come through and opening a new hidden hall.

    There were people. They seemed perfectly ordinary, but I wondered what they were doing there. Sometimes they were alone, sometimes in pairs or groups. I never got to interact with them, though the pairs and groups would often chat amongst themselves. I always saw them from a distance. Any attempts to get near them caused them to suddenly round a corner and vanish from my sight. Sometimes, I would hear their echoing voices growing fainter, but could never catch up to them.

    The dreams were unsettling. I wasn’t chased by monsters or threatened in any way. There was just this overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety, mostly the fear I would never get out of the house or be able to put it in any kind of order. The dreams caused me to avoid sleep. I would force myself to stay awake rather than risk finding myself in that house again.

    I told a friend of mine, who was into new-age crystal therapy, astrology, tarot cards and the like, about the dreams I was having and the lack of sleep they were causing me. She looked it up in some dream interpretation book and told me it was my brain literally trying to make sense of itself. The house was supposedly some kind of manifestation of my psyche and its condition was how I subconsciously viewed myself. I still had the dreams for a while, but they weren’t as disturbing and eventually tapered off.

    Playing this game rekindled those memories and the feelings of dread. I wonder if one or more of the game’s creators were inspired by dreams similar to mine.

  20. Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

    Played it for an hour or two need to go back.

    Found it thoroughly confusing so far but brilliantly atmospheric. I’m hoping I get a handle on what’s going on a bit better but if it’s the game’s stated aim to induce doubt and a degree of anxiety then it is working!

    I’ve also got some mysterious thing from pledging a certain amount. It’s description is thoroughly confusing but I’m hoping it will at least make a slight bit of sense once I’ve completed it (they advise to wait until then to start playing with it).

    Oh and for those in need of some sort of guidance Ice Pick have released a series of “Do’s and Dont’s” for the game. Personally I haven’t read it as I want to play the game as intended but if I’m none the wiser after completion I might have a look. Apparently it’s just a few tips, they don’t want to spoil the game so not sure how much help it will be to confused souls – but you can find it here if you want a look – http://knock.ice-pick.com/files/dos_and_donts_eng.pdf

  21. Meat Circus says:

    “And the things do some in, or appear on the dark, or do you cause them?”

    Drug use among children has for many an education, and with obvious alarm, for both parents on the increase almost yearly.

  22. DestructibleEnvironments says:

    The devs are in this thread, mentioning a possible Pathologic remake. Just sharing the “news”. http://steamcommunity.com/app/250380/discussions/0/846966336142951791/

  23. Quirk says:

    “Can video games be art?”

    Yes.
    Exhibit A: Ice Pick Lodge.
    (Exhibit B: Fumito Ueda)

    Ice Pick Lodge were always more successful at blending some level of gameplay with their art’s complexities than other would-be art game makers – for instance, Tale of Tales. It feels like they’re making a breakthrough here, managing to make something much more accessible than before without greatly compromising the artistic weight. I hope this is a massive success for them and that it starts to open up great unexplored areas of game design for others.

  24. Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

    There is soon going to be a big podcast with the head of Ice-Pick Lodge, in Russian. I’ll try to transcribe and translate it.

  25. RogerioFM says:

    Hey Jim, if you’re able to interview them, please ask for a Pathologic translation, pleeeaasse.

  26. Courtney says:

    So I had never heard of Pathologic until now. And now I feel a burning desire to play it.

    • RogerioFM says:

      I can’t say you’ll like it, but you must at least try it. It’s unique. Any game that forces you to trade a gun for bread, just to survive another day is a powerful thing.