Knock-knock Uses Nebulous Ghost Mechanics to Create Terror
Knock-knock is a surreal experience in living in a haunted house. To beat it, you need to run from ghosts and survive until dawn. How complicated could that be? This horror game is largely about figuring out how it works, though. What does it mean when ghosts say certain things? Which ghosts behave in what ways? By making it hard to figure out how to survive its hauntings, it captures a real sense of the terror. The kind likely you’d feel if you suddenly found yourself in an actual supernatural situation.
There is a strange cabin far off in the woods. Several generations of Lodgers have called this place home. This cabin seems to rustle and shift in the night, though. It grows new rooms and hidden spots. Ghostly denizens have also started to move into this place, whispering in the dark. Something worse is wandering out in the nearby woods, too. All you can hope to do is stay away from these deadly hauntings until daytime banishes them.
Knock-knock sets you free to wander the ever-changing cabin each night until the in-game clocks turns all the way to daybreak. There’s a couple of things you can do as you wait. You can walk around the rooms to see what is in each of them. However, most of them are dark. You can flick on the lights, but you have to spend several seconds messing with the bulbs in each room to turn them on. Doing so is quite useful as it lets you see the objects in room (like hidden clocks that push time forward), and your character only moves at full speed when the lights are on. It’s well worth it to start turning on the lights as you wander your cabin.
As the nights progress, a variety of hauntings will begin to appear, and all you can do is either run or hide from them. These varied ghosts all act in different ways,. Some will persistently follow you around the cabin. Some ghosts seem better at locating you even when you’re hiding. Certain phantoms won’t notice you slipping into a hiding spot right in front of them. Others seem drawn to lights. Further phantoms pop in and out of reality, and can appear right on top of you. Each ghost comes with its own set of behaviors, and the game doesn’t explain these to you.
Knock-knock gives you a bit of information through what the ghosts say, though. Some ghosts will mutter for you to come out of your hiding spot. Others say they can see you in the most unsettling tones. Yet more seem to offer a warning that you’re in danger. These seem to encourage you to hide or move, but I had trouble finding a consistent meaning to what they said or what voice was saying it. At times, I heard something say that it could see me while hiding, but then it just lumbered by without grabbing me. In others, I ignored the voices and suffered a terrifying run-in with a ghost. I never felt like I knew what to do. These voices felt more like they were goading me into making a mistake.
You don’t die immediately from these encounters, thankfully. In this game, everything costs you time. If a ghost touches you, your clock rolls back. If it rolls back too far, then you fail. However, you can pick up clocks that roll time forward, if you’re lucky. You locate these by turning on the lights and standing still, which comes with its own risks. Hiding carries a risk, too. The clock rolls backwards slowly when you’re in a hiding spot to encourage you to keep moving. The more you hide, the longer the night lasts. This added to my panic about ghost behaviors and the things they were saying. Now, I had to worry that my hiding was going to put me in danger even longer.
Combining this time/life system and the uncertainty of ghost behavior makes Knock-knock terrifying and bewildering. The ghosts can behave in all manner of ways, and none of them feel especially consistent. Some ghosts would wander without ever coming for me. I’d hear shouts that something could see me, but nothing was there. I’d panic and hide well in advance when something was coming, yet the ghost would just pull me from my hiding spot anyway. That would make me waste time, which meant spending more time in the haunted cabin. This, in turn, would make me want to blunder out of hiding spots to keep the clock moving. I’d do this just to have a ghost appear right on top of me and kill me outright.
It was all extremely disorienting. This made it difficult to think long enough to figure out how the ghosts worked, or if certain ghosts followed predictable behaviors. I couldn’t tell if turning on the lights caused more trouble. I never knew if the murmurings around me meant some phantom was close or not, or if something was going to teleport right on top of me. There were so many different ghosts and behaviors that it was difficult to learn them all. It was especially difficult to do so when several different types of ghosts were all stalking me at the same time. And it was downright impossible while worrying about all of the other elements.
Knock-knock often leaves you too scared to think with its unpredictable ghosts. You can’t hide to steal a moment to figure things out as you’ll lose time AND you might get caught anyway. It’s hard to stay on the move through the rooms as you keep running into locked doors or dark rooms where you’ll move slowly. Plus, the ghosts seem to be able to spawn just about anywhere, so there’s nowhere safe. Things only grow more dangerous as the nights progress, making it difficult to think long enough to figure out what the ghosts do or how they work. It takes everything to scramble to stay alive. It creates this feeling that you’re steadily panicking and blundering through the house. All you can do is scream and run.
This is what I loved about this game, even as I was cursing it after dying over and over again. It is extremely difficult to focus long enough to figure out how its ghost enemies work, so it feels like they’re unknowable, unpredictable things. You feel like you can’t understand the haunting, and you just blunder your way through each room as you pray for daylight. It’s what I imagine a real haunting would feel like.
If your house were truly haunted, could you figure out how the ghosts work? Would you have time to understand a supernatural being before it killed you? Could you control your fear enough to try to understand how it worked, or would you simply scream into the night? Knock-knock makes us ask ourselves these questions with its array of unpredictable ghosts and its constant pressure to keep moving. Through being filled with systems that are difficult to understand, it captures something like that real terror that would come from being haunted.