The timing of Don’t Knock Twice’s release feels a little off in two different ways. One, it’s a video game tie-in for a movie with the same name that came out in the UK in 2016 and released in the States in February 2017. Second, its design seems better suited for release alongside the frenzy associated with Konami’s ill-fated Silent Hills demo, PT. Nevertheless, the Wales Interactive developed game offers players the chance to explore a house under assault by a malevolent being from Slavic folklore and all the scares associated with it. It’s an experience that shows a lot of promise at first until the eventual pivot reveals the horror to be little more than cardboard cutouts on springs.
This first-person haunted house adventure is inspired by the horror film that uses Baba Yaga, represented here as a witch that devours children, to disrupt the reconciliation between a mother and her daughter. With little preamble, the player is put into the role of Jess, a recovering drug addict who, in the past, gave up her daughter Chloe in pursuit of a fix. Through a series of scattered notes, official letters, and diary entries, Jess attempts to reconnect with her estranged daughter by... forcing her to move in with her? The setup kind of doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and thankfully, it doesn’t take long for any of it to no longer matter. A quick jaunt through the impossibly large mansion gives way to Chloe’s frantic text messages and eventual capture by a monster that stalks the hallways.
In the beginning, the game does some great tricks to establish atmosphere and tone. An ongoing rain and lightning storm rages outside the house, causing it to tremble and creak with every roll of thunder. Lightning flashes create unnatural shadows, many of which may or may not be Jess’ imagination. Equipped with little more than a candle, a cellphone, and some errant objects, Jess must navigate the house by herself in search of five artifacts to trigger a satanic summoning ritual designed to open a portal to Baba Yaga’s otherworldly realm. This adventure is not an isolated one as Baba Yaga manifests her will against Jess through different means such as light possession, unexplained noises, slamming doors, and other supernatural activity. The game also uses some cool camera tricks involving objects, debris, creepy statues and paintings that appear and disappear as the player looks away from them. It’s fun psychological bits like this that makes it difficult to play without pulling the headset off from my face.
I was significantly involved in the “show” of Don’t Knock Twice until I was struck by a sad realization. After a few run-ins with Baba Yaga and her malicious antics, I discovered that at no point was I in any real danger. There are no fail states, you are not expected to hide behind corners or in closets, and nothing in the house actually does you any harm. At this point, the game turns into a funhouse filled with cheap jump scares and artificial terror. Even the final encounter with Baba Yaga, of which the game lazily builds towards, has all the thrill of a better-than-average carnival attraction. A game like PT was successful in building good psychological terror because of its total unpredictability and inability to see the gears turning behind the scenes. Unless you’re following the script, Don’t Knock Twice is as exciting as a Six Flags Halloween haunt.
Working through the mystery of the Baba Yaga house can be done with or without a virtual reality headset; however those with a PSVR, Oculus, or Vive will get more out of the experience. Both the DualShock controller and PlayStation Move wands can be used and, like the headset itself, you’ll get more out of using them over the controller because of how they function like your hands, allowing you to examine objects from different angles pretty smoothly. On the other hand, there’s no reason to do this so I suppose the advantage is moot. Neither the DualShock or the wands provides the most comfortable experience because both methods have their own niggling annoyances.
Don’t Knock Twice is a short, play-it-once-and-forget kind of game whose purpose is to promote a film that might have flown below a radar or two. I enjoyed the genuinely unnerving moments of psychological terror that I thought brought the game within arms reach of Silent Hill. As a media tie-in, it’s not an especially bad game but the schtick doesn’t last as long as it should. The game does have two different endings but to ask the player to go through the whole game again just to see them is almost too much. If given a more polish and additional content, Don’t Knock Twice could have been a fantastic VR horror experience.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.