It’s late at night, and the walls are shaking. Something in the darkness is making strange and sinister sounds. Just creaky floorboards and old pipes, you tell yourself. That ever-so-tall man in the corner of your room? A hatstand. The prowling dog at the foot of your bed with sharp, yellow teeth? Nothing more than an old cardboard box. Creaks perfectly captures this twisted world of midnight shadows – then dares you to get out of bed and explore.
Behind the wallpaper in our nameless protagonist’s studio flat hides a vast subterranean mansion, rendered in incredible hand-painted detail. Bold, sketchy lines keep the environment and its obstacles readable, despite the murky lights and endless clutter. Characters navigate this mysterious kingdom with stiff, stilted animations, like old puppets being manhandled from behind a showman’s curtain. It’s strange, slightly off-putting, and perfectly in keeping with the darkly gothic aesthetic. And the music… An orchestra of surprising sounds weaves in and out of the foreground as you progress through each level. Every major character has their own unique instrument that bursts into life as they potter about a scene. When you approach the final dozen or so levels, there’s a sense of organic, otherworldly wonder that builds and builds.
With such a standout vibe and style, I was expecting Creaks to be more of a sensory playbox than a traditional game, following in the footsteps of so many of Amanita Design’s other experiences. Instead, this is very much a logic puzzler. You will traverse more than fifty rooms, almost all containing a brain teaser to solve. There are pressure pads and switches, and crates to push around. Over a six-hour playtime, several enemies are steadily introduced, and each behaves completely differently from the last. Snarling robotic dogs, ethereal jellyfish and strange shadow doppelgangers impede your progress, but helpfully transform into inanimate objects under the sudden glare of lamplight. It’s all about manipulating movement patterns and getting the right thing into the right place at the right time. Sometimes that involves herding deer into small spaces to activate pressure pads. Other times, you need to catch an enemy under a well-timed spotlight, then clamber onto their petrified body to reach a high ledge. The longer you’re in the dark, the more your eyes start to adjust. The creepy becomes characterful, and this sinister underground kingdom transforms into a magical puzzle box you never want to leave.
Creaks is the perfect late-night adventure, bursting at the seams with atmosphere and intelligence. Unlike so many similar puzzlers, this is a game that resists the urge to up the complexity by overwhelming the player. Levels are small, usually taking place on just one screen. I was never frustrated or stuck in for too long, but I still felt hella smart. It hits that sweet spot of great puzzle design; challenging yet fair, and immensely satisfying.
I haven’t even mentioned the wordless story, which has you following the avian denizens of the mansion as they battle a huge, unruly beast. Or the secret paintings that spring into life as little windup minigames. You’ll have to discover those yourself.