Once Upon a Midnight Dreary
As the screen faded in from black, I found myself sitting alone in a dark, partially fire-lit room. My cell phone was buzzing, and someone named Chloe was really, really angry with me for reasons beyond my understanding. Donít Knock Twice immediately succeeds at building atmosphere in its claustrophobic indoor home setting. While hardly an original locale for the genre, it does work, and little time was wasted getting me on the edge of my seat.
Though I played the game with a standard PC setup, itís clear that it was designed with VR in mind. Movement and interaction are slow and mirror what it might be like to be working with the Vive controller of Oculus Touch. Doors donít open with a button click, for example: they must be grabbed and then manually opened with a joystick. The slow pace and immersive controls worked quite well for me. I felt engaged with the player character, and I felt like I was interacting with my surroundings in an extremely natural way.
Itís worth noting that I booted up Donít Knock Twice knowing absolutely nothing about the game except that it was in first person and the genre was horror. This level of mystery surrounding just what I was getting myself into actually worked quite a bit in the gameís favor. I had no idea if this was going to be a murder mystery, a paranormal haunting, an alien creep show or something else entirely. For the opening stretch of the game, absolutely anything was possible, which made things even more tense.
As I Pondered Weak and Weary
After a few initial directions to grab my phone and a candle, I started walking around the house lighting candles in the hall. Iím not sure why I was sitting in a completely dark house to begin with, but another aggressive text from Chloe seems to imply that for some reason I, or someone else, turned off the power. From here things got a bit confusing for awhile. I was instructed to light some of the hallway candles with the one I already had lit, but then was left to my own devices. Not sure what to do, I started wandering. A few dark hallways later, outside in the courtyard of the home, I see Chloe knocking on a window up high to get my attention. She points at her phone, then mine buzzes, and sheís texted me asking if Iím going to dump her again. Ah, so am I a creepy significant other walking around Chloeís house? I did see some letters about her mother trying to regain custody. Am I the mother? I had no idea, yet. Iíll admit that at this point I didnít love that I really didnít have a reason for sneaking around. Not knowing what my objective was, or where I was trying to get to, was a bit frustrating. A tiny bit more structure, either objective or narrative wise, would have helped the early game before opening things up.
Old Ideas Done Well
For the first ďactĒ of the game, things continue like this without much change. Walk through a new part of the house. Read some letters to fill you in on some lore. Light some candles. Have a door slam behind you or something fall off a shelf. There really are a number of quite tense moments throughout the short campaign, and more than one or two of the jump scares got me pretty good, but a portion of this good design is undone by the fact that there really isnít anything to see that hasnít been done before a number of times. A creepy house isnít new. Demonic rituals arenít new either. While thereís undoubtedly entertainment to be had, Iíd have loved for the developers to put this work into a more unique package that could have helped it stand out from its genre kin.
The ever present question with horror games is how heavily they rely on jump scares, and Donít Knock Twice falls pretty firmly into the ďquite heavilyĒ camp. Normally that would be a complaint, but for the most part they work and make sense. A few of the noise and object scares seemed a bit too forced, but the balance between jump scare, tension scare and general creepiness was maintained to my liking.
Things Fall Apart
After the first half an hour or so of gameplay, the narrative and specific direction of the horror make themselves more clear, and itís this that I found to be the most interesting part of the game. The story, told almost entirely through letters, newspaper clippings, journals and other readable documents, unfolds at a good pace and is well written. I was genuinely curious to see where it was all going. The general premise, about a mother trying to reconnect with her daughter after a long absence, and a daughter whoís toeing the dangerous side of some occult experimentation, may also not be the most original thing in horror, but a well done cliche is still something well done. The communication between Chloe and the player character, which is done almost entirely through text messages, also worked better than I thought it would. As I wandered around the house to find the pieces to complete (stop?) a started curse, I was genuinely curious what would come next. The game builds up to a nice crescendo and very cool final minutes, but then kind of ruins it with a twist that felt unearned, only slightly logical, and taken from start to finish entirely too quickly. I know this contradicts my earlier point that I wish the game would have done some more unique things, but the little twist is poorly executed enough that it undos a decent amount of the goodwill the narrative had built with me.
Donít Knock Twice is hurt in part by the degree to which it walks familiar horror genre ground, but by playing it safe it also comfortable. It delivers a well put together game with enough scares and narrative intrigue to justify its own existence. Itís not a replacement for Resident Evil 7 or Outlast 2, but its short runtime makes it a great game to run through on a dark evening as the Halloween season slowly lurches closer.
Solid controls, creepy atmosphere, jump scares are present but relatively effective, some genuinely good tension and scares, interesting story that unfolds well for most of its run.
The game needs a little bit more direction in the opening twenty minutes or so, the setting is a bit too cliche, the twist is very poorly executed.