Numbers and horror have gone together forever. The way you have to say “Candyman” five times before he appears, room number 237 in The Shining where everything and anything horrific happens to the family looking after the hotel, and Friday the 13th Part 7 for just… being a terrible train wreck of a film. Well, Wales Interactive have brought us a new horror title, and it has a number in the title too. But is it as scary as a pair of twin girls in a hallway, or about as terrifying as your uncle with a sheet over his head moaning in the downstairs cupboard?
Don’t Knock Twice is a first person reality exploration game that puts you in a spooky old manor house somewhere in the Welsh countryside. You start the game in a drawing room with a mobile phone, a candle and lot of questions. You’re a mother looking for your missing daughter, who you fear is connected to the urban legend “One knock to wake her from her bed, twice to raise her from the dead.” As you venture through the house, you get strange text messages and glimpses of a woman in the shadows. Is that your daughter? Or is it something more sinister?
The game is sold on other formats on the VR premise, so how does it translate for us poor souls stuck in the technological past known as Xbox One? Well surprisingly well, as this is not the first horror game that has arrived on Xbox from the world of VR. You explore the rooms of the haunted house, picking up clues with one hand and holding your candle for light with the other. When you find an object, be it a diary, a newspaper-cutting, or a photograph, you examine it carefully for clues or hints about what to do next. Doors can be opened and levers can be pulled, but as you progress you’ll find an axe and a DIY flamethrower to use. These are not for combat but to help you get through the next area or open some secret doorways. You can crouch and run, but you use these buttons very seldomly as it is all about the journey, the exploration and of course, the horror.
Don’t Knock Twice runs along quite a linear path at times, which works perfectly within its setting. The puzzles can be a little tricky, but are never annoying and there are some nice hidden secrets to collect for those achievement hunters throughout. It’ll take you just a few hours to complete the game in one walkthrough, depending on how much time you spend wandering around and exploring every detail. I think that’s a fair amount of time, at least for the price that it’ll cost and you’ll never feel like you’ve been shortchanged.
Regarding the story, which has links to the film involving Katee Sackhoff, and it’s a solid tale. There’s nothing included that I haven’t experienced in gaming before though, but what they do, they do very well indeed. The mixing of old fairytales with a modern twist, spooky stone statues, and children bricked up behind walls is all, strangely, very entertaining and there are some big jump scares to enjoy. If you like that thing of course. I personally love the way you aren’t spoon-fed the whole narrative at once, but you collect all the story threads by exploration and reading, trying to piece the threads together yourself. The ending jarred with me a bit, because you are suddenly asked to do something that you haven’t done throughout the game, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the experience as a whole.
The visuals of Don’t Knock Twice all revolve around the lighting. When it plays with shadows and dimly lit spaces, it works incredibly well, but occasionally, when you spot something in full focus, it doesn’t fare quite so well. There are the occasional visual judders as well, especially when you get close to the action, but there is nothing too horrible to affect the experience. Audio-wise and the soundtrack, effects and general spookiness comes across as a master class in sound design. Like all great horror films, it’s all about the sound causing the horror and this game is no different – sudden crashes, deep breathing, spooky piano music coming from afar and a tone of discomfort are the many devices employed by the development team to great effect.
To conclude and if you’re a fan of the horror genre, like a bit of story, don’t mind a scare and enjoy a lot of exploration, then stop what you’re doing and give Don’t Knock Twice a go. For the others out there, then it might well be a decent game to take a punt on. Yes I wish I was playing it in VR, yes I wish the ending was better, yes I wish there wasn’t the occasional stutter, but I like playing games that make me smile and feel something.
Don’t Knock Twice is a lot better then my uncle hiding in the cupboard with a sheet on his head… and that’s a very good recommendation.