The elevator pitch for Don’t Knock Twice could be applied to dozens of games. You are faced with a door leading to a house in unsettling, chilling neglect, and proceed to explore its spooky, dim-lit hallways to discover a hidden truth about its former inhabitants. However, where the fine details clearly delineate, say, Gone Home from Resident Evil 7, the details of Don’t Knock Twice are almost non-existent.
Surprisingly, Don’t Knock Twice is based on a movie, a low-budget 2016 British horror flick starring Battle star Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff. Sakhoff’s Jess is a recovered drug addict whose estranged daughter, Chloe, returns to live with her. This is all complicated by the fact that Chloe has recently disturbed the house of a dead witch, and has brought her tortured soul to Jess’s home. The movie itself isn’t that notable, but gets brownie points for two things: one of the grossest dinner scenes since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and intriguing subtext involving the intersection of parenthood and addiction.
The game hints to that plot here and there. Jess receives frequent, accusatory, and frightened text messages from Chloe throughout the game, and the occasional random document to read fills in some of the backstory. But Don’t Knock Twice mostly settles for being a low-key adventure with light puzzle solving. You spend most of your time trying to figure out which objects open various doors around the house, and solving basic riddles all while an unseen force slams doors behind you, throws books off shelves, writes messages in blood on the walls, and generally makes life annoying while Jess tries to get stuff done.
Admirably, the house is an accurately moody recreation of the film’s sets in virtual space. The soundscape drops thunder and lightning in as punctuation, and random effects like knocking doors, whispers, and screams fill in any empty aural space. But Don’t Knock Twice isn’t an intimidating experience, aside from the occasional well-executed jump scare. The supernatural stuff is cliche: a pentagram in the basement, a child’s ball falling down a set of stairs, an unknown figure in a window upstairs. The entire game breeds a sense of “been there, done that,” and is over in around an hour, well before any tension has a chance to build.
The one element that helps is the game being playable in VR, but even this has trade offs. Naturally, VR instantly helps with immersion, but Don’t Knock Twice ties mobility to short-range teleportation: pointing at a spot in the room with a motion controller to avoid walking, and potentially VR sickness. This process is marred by collision detection almost from the beginning, where the mere act of lighting a candle feels like a wrestling match. You can switch to a regular controller, but there, the controls feel needlessly cluttered, with just about everything tied to trigger buttons.
Don’t Knock Twice doesn’t share company with the likes of Layers of Fear so much as it does with the large number of “VR Experiences” flooding digital storefronts: quick and dirty cash-ins that feel more like tech demos than full-fledged games. Don’t Knock Twice is more solidly constructed than some, but it’s largely unambitious and forgettable. It seems content to be a ground-level thriller at a time and on a platform with plenty of hungry competition.