By their very nature, puzzlers tread a thin line – the thin line of frustration. Should a developer cross it, you can be sure they’ll find their players trudging through a world of confusion, thankful for when the end comes. What Amanita Design have done with Creaks though pretty much nails everything you could ever wish for in a puzzler. Surreal, interesting, weird, intriguing, gorgeous and sounding superb. Creaks is a masterpiece. And rarely does it ever exasperate.
Creaks sees you following the life of an everyday man, sat alone in his bedroom, pouring over books, when the lights start going out and the world around him shakes. Intrigued by what has happened, he discovers a tear in his bedroom wall. Peeling back the wallpaper and opening the rift sees him – and you – dropping down into the depths of a mysterious mansion, one that is populated by the strangest avian folk, all happily getting on with their lives. But it is also home to the Creaks, deadly enemies who should be kept away from at all costs. Unless you trap them under a light source, as then they’ll turn into a harmless piece of everyday furniture. Yep, Creaks is weird.
Your task in Creaks is to make your way through this strange underground world in the hope that you can discover the reasons behind your room – and your life – shaking itself apart. To go further into how the story plays out would be doing a massive disservice to those who have created it – and those looking to play it – but be sure that as you make your way through this world, a rather lovely muted tale slowly unfolds, all until… well, you’ll find out when you play it yourself.
The world of Creaks is one massively interconnected series of smaller rooms, each of which play out as a delicate little puzzle. Some will see you needing to clamber around on ladders, pulling switches, hitting pressure pads and opening doors, with the express intention of slowly moving through. But this is where the Creaks themselves come in. Monsters in the dark, yet standard pieces of furniture in the light, you’ll have to utilise each and every one of these creatures, and their movement, pushing them onto the switches and pads that you need help with.
These guys come in a few forms. You’ve got the dogs who will awake as you get near them, chasing you across the platforms should you dare to tease. Trap these guys under a light source and they’ll turn into a chest of drawers. Why? God knows, but it just hammers home the madness that Creaks delivers. There are also jellyfish-like creatures who work their way across various rooms, patrolling set paths until an obstacle gets in their way. These guys are super useful though – not only do they turn into a globe when light hits them, but should you be able to trap them in certain areas you will find they are a godsend at pushing back the barky dogs and ensuring that you find a safe route through.
For the opening phases of Creaks, these are the two foes you’ll become most acquainted with, with the game ensuring that you are more than at one with what is needed to allow progress. But then, later on, as the story and the puzzles get more complex, further foes arrive in the form of two types of mimics – one who copies your every movement, and another who works in reverse; as you walk left, they walk right. Again it will be up to you to utilise their movements in order to open up pathways, and to trap these guys under light, turning them into coat stands in the process. Yes you read that right, coat stands.
The puzzling elements of Creaks work really, really, well. So much so that you will hardly ever find any form of frustration hitting home. This is key for any game that provides a test of the grey matter, and it’s one that Amanita Design have really excelled in here. Yes, there will be the odd time where you’ll have to sit back, put the controller down and survey the scene, attempting to run various conclusions through your mind, but rarely will you want to rage quit in any frustration. Credit has to go out to Amanita for creating a superb experience once more, building on what they previously did with the equally great Machinarium.
It’s not just about the puzzles though, for this is a game that looks brilliant. Hand-painted visuals are always a treat to take in, and that is the case here with Creaks, with the high level of detail, the stunningly designed levels and the overall vibe it brings all coming together to deliver a visual delight. I’ve got absolutely nothing but great words to use in terms of how this game provides eye candy galore, and the same could be said for the audio. Created by the Hidden Orchestra – one Joe Ancheson – your ears will be more than happy to take in the sounds created. It’s an eclectic score that has been put together through a variety of instruments and tools; zithers, flutes, organs, modern synths and an egg-slicer all combine well. From the strange sounds that the bird-like folk of this underground world vocally communicate, to the atmospheric backing tracks that help bring things together, again Creaks ticks all the boxes.
This is never more true than in the secret rooms and hidden paintings that you will find yourself stumbling across. Whilst not exactly ‘hidden’ – these are relatively simple to discover and perhaps that lack of exploration is the only really negative that can be pointed at Creaks – these paintings come in the form of proper old school 18th and 19th century wall art. Interactive and with many of them playing out as little mini-games, these are simple affairs that will have you needing to utilise a combination of thumbstick and face buttons to solve the task at hand. Perhaps you’ll be needing to help a cabaret singer hit the right notes, or you’ll find yourself navigating a smaller puzzling world, or even just helping a guy out on a casual stroll jump over a series of obstacles. These paintings are just as weird – perhaps weirder – than the main game, but again each and every one has had a ton of heart, love, and soul pumped into them. It’s the little things that make a great game, and in Creaks the little things are the utter stars.
My only real concern is that I just wish these were a little trickier to find, as through my initial playthrough only a couple of the 35 in place were missed. Thankfully once you complete Creaks, there is the option to easily drop back in to any specific room in the world so picking up any missed secrets is a fairly easy process. I would say however that this is possibly the only reason to go back into Creaks once the story has reached its conclusion – once you’ve completed the puzzles, there is little reason to play through this adventure again.
However, there really is little to complain about for Creaks on Xbox One is an absolute puzzling delight. It’s not the longest of games, but from the very first minute right through to the last it’s a highly intriguing affair that ticks all the boxes. It looks great, it sounds great, and it comes with enough test of the mind to keep your brain active, all without ever becoming frustrating. If you’re a fan of Machinarium or love a clever puzzle or two, this is a must buy.