Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You’re in a creepy house, limited light, no ability to fight back, and there are a whole lot of bumps, bangs, and other horrifying things going on that make it an uncomfortable experience. It’s the premise of a large selection of horror games to have released over the last five years, and it’s exactly this category that Don’t Knock Twice falls into. Add to that the ability to explore the dark and mysterious manor in VR to get a formulaic game that feels like it it was bred from a book titled The Quintessential Guide to Making Horror Games.
Don’t Knock Twice was developed alongside the 2016 movie as a virtual reality experience, though it can be played via flat screen as well. After attempting both, VR is the way to go. Unlike January’s Resident Evil 7, there’s very little graphical improvement to playing on a TV versus in the headset, so the flat screen version of the game seems dated in regard to simple objects and limited textures. Virtual reality is also a better way to immerse yourself in the creepy atmosphere of the house, which is essentially the entire game. Without any real enemies to fight or the ability to die, Don’t Knock Twice is effectively a horror-themed walking simulator.
The brunt of the game is figuring out how to navigate the house. It feels a bit like a funhouse maze at first, with doors slamming and locking behind you, and yet more locked doors barring your path forward. There were some odd parts where I legitimately wandered around single rooms for ten minutes or more trying to figure out how to move forward. Suddenly a gate or door would randomly be unlocked or open with no prodding or interaction from me. This is all before picking up the ax, after which you can just hack off every door handle in the game to open paths. There are very few puzzles to figure out, and then ones that are there end up being excessively simple or mechanically frustrating to execute.
Even with all of the pointless hangups in different rooms, losing the ax into the graphics of a wall, and wandering around the entire house about four times attempting to complete the last part of the pentagram, I managed to finish the game in under an hour and 20 minutes. To put that into perspective, the movie on which the game is based has a run time of two hours and two minutes. I’m confident that a speed run could shave an hour off of that total and have it completed in about 20 to 30 minutes at most, without the artificial delays some areas seem to manufacture.
Don’t Look Twice
Before the curtain was lifted and I realized there was no danger, there were some genuinely creepy moments that got under my skin. Not sure what to expect going into this, the buzz of my character’s cellphone as she gets a text from her estranged daughter actually made me jump the first time it happened. I crept down the hallways, unsure of what to expect around the next corner. Then I started getting comfortable and ran through everything without a hint of fear. There’s one particularly frightening jump scare about halfway through, but Don’t Knock Twice never really antes up on the horror. Jump scares are cheap tricks anyway. I’d much prefer the psychologically eerie atmosphere of an ever unpredictable house than a corpse witch jumping out at me when I’m already extremely frustrated with wonky mechanics and physics. Texture pop-in was all too frequent. One room I walked into was an empty gray box for a few seconds until the objects and textures loaded. Was this the work of the witch’s curse?
Dont Knock Twice Review - Don't Play Twice (PSVR/PS4)
Virtual reality does manage to provide much of the atmosphere I was looking for. Graphically it’s quite an impressive experience. Three dimensional audio gives the world around you life, and the Move controllers add a bit of depth and immersion to exploring the house. You can use a DualShock 4, but as is the case with most PSVR games, if you’ve got the Moves, use them. Virtual reality is the preferred way to play, and seems to be where much of the development went, with flat screen play feeling more like an afterthought to expand the potential audience. In many ways, I wish they had made it exclusively a VR game. The ability to play it non-VR cheapens the experience in ways I don’t think the developer intended, revealing a bit too much of what’s behind the curtain and how there’s nothing to really be afraid of.
I haven’t seen the movie upon which Don’t Knock Twice is based, but I did watch a trailer. It’s funny how many elements from the trailer ended up in the game like the developer had a series of check boxes to go through. The random axe used to break of door handles and bust down walls, the sculpture room, and the bad blood between mother and daughter—among many other aspects—felt ripped right from the movie trailer and plopped into the game for no good reason other than to call them related. There’s a very loose story of some friction between mom and daughter, and there’s the creepy witch Baba Yaga whom I think kidnapped the daughter? Mom then has to complete some sort of ritual pentagram by finding objects around the house to go to Baba Yaga’s own realm and confront her.
Don’t Knock Twice might be a decent complementary companion to the handful of people who liked the movie (28% critic score, 25% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes), but there’s just far too little to enjoy, and what is here feels like low-budget copy and paste of the last half decade of horror titles if you decide to play without the PSVR headset. Virtual reality escalates the atmosphere to a much more sustainable level, but there’s nothing about Don’t Knock Twice that makes it a must play horror game, inside of virtual reality or out.
Editor’s Note: If you intend to play Don’t Knock Twice without PSVR, take a point or two off of the final score. The flat-screen version is inferior to the virtual reality version.
Don’t Knock Twice review copy provided by developer. For more information on review scores, please read our Review Policy.