A Game A Day #4 - Knock-knock

It’s the Year of The Ice-Pick once again. Those in the know have probably already acquired and consumed the Russian team’s latest offering by now. The fortunate fuckers outside it should read on to find out why they are lucky to be able to try out an IPL game for the first time.

In Knock-knock, you play an hermit insomniac, a tired, slouched man delirious from the lack of sleep. All you want is a good night’s rest, but the house has other plans - sights and sounds meant to keep you up. So you get out of bed and take your nightly tour - you explore the house, turning on all the lights, trying to pinpoint where the noise is coming from. When you reach the front door (and you always do), having confidence in the fact you hadn’t left it open (and you hadn’t), you go outside to make sure it was just the wind (AND SPOILER IT WASN’T). After that, the hallucinations kick in.

You slog from room to room, turning on the lights, finding places to hide and often, things to hide from. All you have to do is survive until dawnbreak. The morning sun feels distant and unreachable at first, with the uninvited guests resetting the clock. Hiding helps, but only so much - it reverses the flow of time while giving you sanctuary. You need to be smart about the where, the when and the how long of the hiding process. After the Sun has risen, the house rearranges its layout and the insanity gets cranked up. Then it’s nighttime once more.

There’s something primeval about the game of hide and seek. It is a simple and engaging mechanic, the rules of which are yours to discover through play. The hints the game gives are cryptic and obscure - playful, knowing winks rather than finger-pointing. It is clear from the beginning that you should try things out and failure never results in a major setback. In encouraging you to comprehend and game the systems, Knock-knock masterfully walks the fine line between making you feel empowered and showing you how the proverbial sausage is made. That is, I would say, its biggest strength. That is allows you to get so engrossed in its core without ever revealing the clockwork is unbelievable.

The story is conveyed through the protagonist’s half-asleep muttering, narrative vignettes that are randomly thrown at the player during his journey. It is through them and torn pages of his diary that you find out bits and bobs about him and the house. The jagged writing style that has become one of IPL’s trademarks is once again accompanied by somewhat broken English, the result being a distinctive potpourri of eeriness, bewilderment and insecurity.

The aesthetics are equally praiseworthy. The sense of weariness and decay is channeled through the house and the Lodger in equal parts - its crookedness paired with his posture, its stains with circles under his eyes. The voice-over is done in Gibberish, which was probably an artistic decision as much as a budgetary constraint. It works well, but I can’t help thinking it would’ve been wonderful hearing it in Russian. What I enjoyed the most though, are the sounds - the heavy knocking, the shuffling, the rustling, the whimpering and wailing, the clanking and oscillating - all hefty and meaty, credible and rich. The soundscape is simply superb beyond words.

In a way, I am a bit sad to be a long-time fan of Ice-Pick Lodge. The anticipation of every new game is great and all - knowing that whatever it is I expect, they’ll surpass it by a wide margin does have its charm. But what I wouldn’t give to have the chance to stumble upon them for the first time once again. Because no matter how much things have changed in these recent years, there’s still nothing quite like an IPL game.


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