Impressions: Knock, Knock

There are plenty of game developers whose work is predicated on strangeness, but it is perhaps Ice Pick Lodge who have most successfully defined themselves by making weird games and making games weird. That’s not to say all (or even any) of their games are particularly successful, just that Pathologic*, The Void and Cargo are each singular and deeply peculiar experiences. The same is true for Knock, Knock, their Kickstarted side-scrolling psycho-horror game. Yes, frustrated and worried Kickstarter backers, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Knock, Knock is a very strange, and – judging by this preview version – rather brilliant.

The premise feels like a sort of folkloric cartoon: like those disturbing Eastern European versions of Pinoccio or Snow White. You play a boy (or stunted man) in a nightgown and scarf, in a mansion in some spooky woods. The spiky-haired protagonist gibbers to the camera as he moves about the mansion, unsure if he is awake, certain that things are trying to get into the house, desperate to make it to daybreak. The protagonist moves from room to room, often guided by 2D crash zooms to different parts of the house, showing what’s there (or not there) as he explores other rooms.

Your character carries a candle or oil lamp, which dimly illuminates each room. He can also fix the light in each room, switching it on and allowing him to banish visions, or to close his eyes and “summon” the furniture of each room…

(Okay, it’s already not straightforward to describe, but this is Ice Pick’s most minimalistic production yet.)

…and this furniture can be used to hide when the apparitions do come for him. Hide successfully, and they won’t get you.

And it’s completely terrifying.

I mean just horrible brain-curdling sort of thing. I shouldn’t have found a 2D game with cartoon graphics more affecting than Amnesia, but I absolutely did, because it is so markedly weird in both theme and mechanics.

At points in the game, the front door will swing open, and your character will announce that you have to go out into the woods to “check” what might be out there. I’ve not yet played all the way through, so I suspect the surprise is still waiting for me, but usually my circuit brings me back to the house, and the level ends. Doesn’t sound all that weird, more just insane. Perhaps that’s what it is.

When the boy wakes again, the house is bigger, and has been rearranged. There is more stuff in there. Things have changed, and his disturbed and disturbing narration continues. What is going on?

As you’d expect from a horror title, sound plays a huge role in the atmosphere, you are bombarded with noises, particularly with what sounds like someone loudly banging on doors, and horrible whispers about things you might have thought. It does create a weird tension, even though there doesn’t seem to be any immediate threat from the things that make sounds. What there is a threat from is the loping, shambling things which appear in the dark rooms and then come for you. What are they? Horrible, that’s what.

I’ve not quite figured out the rules of their appearance (or, indeed, if there are any rules) but I’ve found it genuinely horrifying. They’re not particularly gruesome to look at or anything, but the sheer Otherness of their appearance in the empty house is the kind of skin-crawling event that horror games wish they could make routine.

All that matters is getting through to daybreak – and you can do that by busying yourself with going through the rooms or occasionally, fortunately, finding weird clock things which push time forward. If you are a hiding from monsters, however, time goes back. So finding the triggers that keep them at bay is presumably going to be crucial to any end game. It’s a weird setup, but one that is extremely evocative of something. Insomnia, bad dreams, childhood, madness. It reminds me of both older games, from a weirder era of 16-bit and 8-bit experiments, while at the same time carrying the sort of polish that the higher tier of indie games boast these days.

And it has me gripped. I want to know more. As we move between levels we see the player’s caricature move along a scribbled path threading over a sketched cranium. There is a big bad looking monster a little further up the thread. I dread/anticipate that reveal.

Knock, Knock has been a long time coming. Kickstarter backers have been rightly worried by Ice Pick’s apparent procrastination and gibberish-heavy updates, but it does seem like the wait will soon be over, but more importantly, that it will have been worth it. My initial feeling from a first encounter with an early version of the game is that Ice Pick Lodge have made their most accessible game yet, while losing none of their edge.

But, well. You’ll have to excuse me.

There’s something at the door.

[*That game spawned one of the best pieces of writing ever to appear on RPS.]


  1. Lev Astov says:

    Does that clock have… hair?

  2. suibhne says:

    Notwithstanding the delays in development, I’m pleased as punch that I backed this on Kickstarter. It seems likely to exceed my expectations.

  3. kalirion says:

    One thing that always struck me about the screenshots to this game is that the protagonist really looks kinda evil himself. Or at least like a not-very-nice individual.

    • LTK says:

      Mad scientist hair, constant scowl, yeah. Though if I was him I’d probably have a very unpleasant look on my face as well.

    • Mr Propellerhead says:

      Grumpy, dishevelled and dĂ©shabillĂ©… that’s pretty much me upon waking. :|

    • Charles de Goal says:

      That’s what you look like when you’ve been living for too long in the countryside.

  4. Meat Circus says:

    Do not fear death. There is no death in Ice Pick Lodge.

  5. DrScuttles says:

    Ice-Pick Lodge is a developer whom, upon successful completion of a nefarious Bond villainesque plot resulting in my becoming a billionaire (though my brother is an organic chemist, so the Breaking Bad avenue may be far easier, if not for his damned conscience), I aim to shower in money just to see what they come up with. Along with Ace Team.
    I really like the look of Knock Knock. And it’s nice that they’ve made something perhaps a little more approachable but still affecting. Though I can’t see a date anywhere, I’m guessing it can’t be too far off release.

    • lasikbear says:

      Obviously what you should do is spend those untold billions on having ACE Team do a full graphical update of Pathalogic (and more importantly have someone fix the english translation).

      • Meat Circus says:

        Don’t fix it *too* much though. The fractured, disconnected nature of the world is somewhat enhanced by none of the dialogue making any sense.

        • lasikbear says:

          Yeah, my issue playing through was even as the Bachelor (whom I think is supposed to have the best translation) it was hard to tell what was purposefully written that way and what was just nonsense from the garbled translation.

          • ScorpionWasp says:

            Indeed. Generally, I felt that the first 4-5 in-game days had been properly translated. The structure of the phrases was slightly convoluted, but it seemed intentional; the subject matter was inherently hard to put into words and you could see the characters were having trouble with that and/or being intentionally reticent. I dare say the prose was expertly written, even. Then it happens. It’s as if they ran out of time or something, but shit descends into an unintelligible random mess; objectives which before had a paragraph of description now had a single curt command. I sadly lost interest then and never finished the thing. Still waiting for a proper translation.

          • DrScuttles says:

            If I recall correctly, I read a comment on a forum (maybe Ice-Pick Lodge’s own?) or somewhere declaring the original Russian to be wonderfully written indeed. The peculiar translation certainly makes interpretation of the game interesting though.
            The Devotress allegedly has the worst translation, but having seen her ending on Youtube it didn’t seem so bad to me. Maybe you just kind of get used to the manner and feel of it after a while. If not always the specific details, which can be the problem.

          • Halfgild Wynac says:

            It was. Verbose, sure, but exceptionally well written (though, that played its part in “The Void”). Reading such writing when poorly translated is a terrible experience, but, given how all European languages have much in common, you get used to the quirkiness after a while. Then you kinda understand how it COULD sound had it been translated well. If you can grasp the meaning at all, that is :). Doesn’t work especially well for the Impostress in Pathologic.

  6. Shazbut says:

    I am thrilled as I privately thought this wouldn’t amount to much, glorious as their work is. I should have had more faith

  7. InternetBatman says:

    It’s no surprising that this is a terrifying game. The Void was so horrifying that my fiancee made me stop playing. I kept screaming while I was asleep.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I didn’t really think it was horrifying…but my god, so atmospheric, so anxiety-inducing.

      I’m so sad that the game winds up getting kind of tedious along the way, because it’s absolutely wonderful in a way many other games don’t even touch. Yet I find myself wondering if it would still work sans the frustrating aspects…if you couldn’t get stuck, then I guess that would ruin how tense it all is.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Try playing it when you’re unemployed. Two types of existential horror that do not mix.

      • Shazbut says:

        That was my feeling also.

  8. Utsunomiya says:

    They’ve mentioned in an interview that the game will be out on October 4th. Finally!

  9. Tiax says:

    Damn, maybe I’ll finally know what my 47$ pledge entitled me to.

    • G-Lord says:

      I’m sure it will not disappoint. 47$ backer myself.

      • JR says:

        From their recent kickstarter post:

        Creator Ice-Pick Lodge about 13 hours ago:
        Dear friends! We REALLY can’t tell about the $47 plegde! :(
        Moreover, we’d highly recommend to use it only after having finished the game.
        Otherwise one might not understand how to use it properly.

  10. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I don’t know who if anybody is disapointed about backing this, If you pay Ice Pick Lodge money you should be expecting curve balls and that’s exactly what the kickstarter has delivered and I for one have nothing but absolute faith they will deliver. I put down the $46 but i’m not bothered about the reward tier I gave them that money cause they deserve it.

  11. Don Reba says:

    The game is out, and I got my $47 pledge reward. If the manual is accurate, the Curiosity Cube reward can’t hold a candle to it (hehe). But it also advises to save it until you pass the game.

  12. yuri999 says:

    I love the concept but the one thing which irks me is the annoying voiceover gibberish of the character. It’s more irritating and annoying rather than being creepy.

    • Don Reba says:

      I like it, actually. It reminds me of cityspeak from Blade Runner.

  13. pertusaria says:

    I hadn’t read Quinns’ series on Pathologic (or played it) before now, so thank you!