Horror games are hardly few and far between on the Xbox One store, and they tend to come in varying shapes and sizes. We’ve had some great horror games, such as Outlast and Resident Evil 7, we’ve had some poor games, such as Emily Wants to Play, and we’ve had some average horror games, such as Slender and now, Knock Knock. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, despite the interesting premise, Knock Knock is not a great game. It’s a scary game, I’ll give it that, but staggering through the experience is hardly something I would describe as anything but average.
You take on the roll of a lonesome cabin owner that lives in the middle of nowhere. Each night you are awoken by strange sights and sounds which can only be attributed to ‘something’ that’s haunting your home. The aim of the game is to hide from the manifestations that are slowly turning the protagonist insane, and you’ll need to do so until sunrise. The first problem however is that the game doesn’t really explain how you should play in order to survive. Instead, you’re expected to go through the motions of trial and error, which almost instantly makes Knock Knock a game that’s catered for those that enjoy repetitive gameplay and have a good level of forgiveness and patience.
Take for example when you stumble upon the first entity that appears nearby. The game asks you to hide behind something, which the game grants you a free pass for on your first attempt, however subsequent attempts almost always result in failure, and what’s worse, you’re never told why you have failed. This makes it feel tedious as you scramble to work out what you should do on repeat runs to ensure that you don’t fail again. Hell, I even tried looking away from some of the ghouls (as instructed) to prevent them from seeing me, but that didn’t seem to make the world of difference, or at least for some of the enemies.
One interesting feature in Knock Knock is that time will shift and alter when you’re trying to survive the night ahead. The only way you can remedy this is to locate special clocks that are placed around the house. However thanks to the inclusion of procedurally generated content, the rooms will rarely provide the same layout. That’s when Knock Knock’s horror theme begins to show itself, as you desperately scramble around the cabin to seek out the correct clock. When you take into account that there’s an entity roaming the same environment, it makes for some truly scary moments.
These ghouls cannot always be seen, meaning you’ll need to rely on some of the audio to suss out if they’re nearby. I’m not entirely sure if I was just shit at playing the game, or whether you could actually escape once you hear a ghost nearby, because I wasn’t able to evade an entity at least once under these circumstances. If you get caught out, time will reverse and you’ll need to wait even longer to survive the night. As already alluded to, there are different types of ghosts that you’ll encounter. Some ghosts will just stand there and wont harm you unless you approach, whereas others will go haywire if you flick on the light. It helps to add another layer of tension and uncertainty, but the novelty wears off once you identify which ghost does what.
In any event, it works in your favour to pay attention to your surroundings and swiftly grasp an understanding of where everything of importance is situated, unlocking doors, fixing bulbs, and so on and so forth. I found it very useful to unlock doors in advance of any encounters, simply because the more sinister of entities will chase you as if you’ve just called the Ghostbusters. It doesn’t exactly make evasion any easier, but it does shave a few seconds off the clock if you already have an open path to run through. When you take into account that roaming entities can randomly appear via walking through closed doors or walls, you’ll be thankful you took the time to gift yourself with some safety measures. There’s a good sense of risk vs reward too, meaning that if you locate the random portal (which is where the ghosts pour from) and switch on the light, you’ll get a small break as it blocks entry. Portals will indeed open up elsewhere, so it’s down to you to decide how you choose to survive the night.
There are sections of the game that task you with stepping outside of the cabin and into the wilderness. These moments of play are just as freaky, if not more so, than staying indoors. It also offers a nice change of pace and sound, I mean really, there’s only so much of the rehashed floor creaking and door knocking that one can take, even for a game that takes a mere four hours to complete. While Knock Knock is undoubtedly scary, the gameplay bogs it down. There’s nothing wrong with the controls, in fact they respond brilliantly, it’s the functionality and design of the game itself which is the problem.
You’ll either spend far too much time working out where the hell to go, constantly walking down dead-ends, or you’ll suss out where to go and be bored of the story, or lack thereof. With the former, the game just feels far too frustrating, whereas with the latter, the game just comes across quite bland outside of the scares. It’s a shame really because Knock Knock has huge potential that’s sadly weighed down by poor design choices and misdirection. Visually I cant fault the game, it does well at capturing that eerie feeling and absolutely nails the ghouls, which are diverse and freakishly terrifying to observe throughout. It’s definitely a game that will only sing to a particular crowd, that’s for sure.
Knock Knock is certainly a scary game, there’s no denying that. Several times did I jump out of my skin and throw my pad on the floor in fright, but there should be more to a horror game than simply making a player feel uneasy. This is sadly where Knock Knock falls short. There’s a complete lack of communication, which works well in some games, but most definitely not here. You’ll find that you just don’t know where to go or what to do, which leads to prolonged periods of boredom, or you’ll suss out where to go and will be dissatisfied with the lack of story. The mechanics of the game are also not explained to you well enough, meaning you’ll have to endure a great deal of trial and error. What Knock Knock does bring to the table is a decent portion of replay value thanks to the multiple endings, and when you cross this against the generous price tag, you’ll hardly be breaking the bank if you leave the experience displeased. Don’t get me wrong, Knock Knock houses some interesting features and functionalities, as well as some great visuals and presentation, but the rest of the design choices in the game crumble in comparison. This ultimately makes the whole ordeal a pretty average serving. It’s easy to scare someone, but it’s much harder to intrigue someone, and I apply that exact phrase to this experience.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.