Creaks Review – Through the Floorboards

Great puzzles prop up other interesting, unexplored ideas.

Posted By | On 31st, Jul. 2020 Under Article, Reviews


Right off the bat, Creaks is pretty unassuming. Controlling an unnamed everyman in his average bedroom, you fix a shaky lightbulb and a peeling piece of wallpaper. But after the wallpaper peels one too many times, you take a look behind it to find that, against all odds, there’s an entire world on the other side of the wall.

This world is big and intricate, as the wide shot during your descent makes clear, but, like any other hidden world, it’s filled with secrets, lore, and, of course, dozens of complex and satisfying puzzles for you to conquer. While its story may have you end up feeling like a side note in a larger, more interesting world, Creaks’ focus is on its rewarding puzzles, which are impressive in their diversity and complexity without being obtusely difficult. While there are a few missed opportunities, the main puzzles and entertaining interactive paintings make Creaks one of the more interesting indie puzzlers of the year.

"Light adds one of Creaks’ most unique gameplay dynamics. The monsters’ fear of light causes it to be a safe haven for you to stand under in sticky situations, and, because they won’t run through it, it can act as a barrier that keeps them in place."

In classic Apple Arcade fashion, where it was first launched, Creaks is segmented into many small pieces, called scenes, most of which correspond to a single puzzle. Puzzles in Creaks are pretty straightforward. Most of the time, you start on one side of a room and see a ladder on the other side, and your goal is to find a way to get to the ladder safely. Trying to stop you from getting there are monsters that will kill you instantly. Among these are everything from metal dogs that chase after you if you get too close to humanoids that mirror your every move, either in the same direction or the opposite direction.

The twist with each monster is their aversion to light. When caught under a light fixture, enemies will revert to unique household objects like a chair or coat rack. Some puzzles can only be solved by catching certain enemies under a light and standing on them to grab a previously unreachable ladder. Light adds one of Creaks’ most unique gameplay dynamics. The monsters’ fear of light causes it to be a safe haven for you to stand under in sticky situations, and, because they won’t run through it, it can act as a barrier that keeps them in place.

While there are only a handful of total enemy types throughout, the game is successful in diversifying how you have to treat each enemy in every puzzle. In some instances you may have to get a dog to chase you so you can jump down a ledge and sneak behind it before it returns to its resting spot, while in others you’ll have to get them to stand on a switch that activates something else in the level. It’s impressive how many different ways it gets you to use each monster and how consistently clever it makes you feel when you do so.

creaks

"Light adds one of Creaks’ most unique gameplay dynamics. The monsters’ fear of light causes it to be a safe haven for you to stand under in sticky situations, and, because they won’t run through it, it can act as a barrier that keeps them in place."

In its level design, Creaks opts to prioritize fewer monsters in its puzzles to retain its simplicity instead of trying to fit a bunch of enemy types in a single puzzle. Each enemy effectively has its own section throughout the game consisting of anywhere between 10 and 20 puzzles, which showcases both the full extent of their attacks and the fluid and emotive animations. Any given puzzle has at most two types of monsters, which ends up feeling like a minor missed opportunity to have so few levels that explore the interplay between monsters since these are the most unique. Scenes where you let a bunch of enemies interact while you sit on the sidelines are fun to watch and add further dynamics that you miss when dealing with a single monster. Later sections feel anticlimactic because they don’t put together everything you’ve learned so far and, instead, start to feel like more of the same.

What the level design lacks in interplay between monsters, though, it makes up for in increased design complexity. The harder puzzles aren’t always the ones with the most enemies to avoid, but often those with the most space to cross, usually with the most verticality and environmental changes and requiring multiple steps to complete. Even at its most difficult, Creaks luckily never becomes infuriatingly difficult, and it toes a thin line between giving you enough information to succeed and making you feel clever for figuring it out yourself. The beautiful soundtrack helps this. It, along with its uniquely pretty yet ominous art style, adds heavily to the game’s mysterious tone, but it also gives audible celebrations when you’ve done something to progress a puzzle. It’s not particularly subtle about it, but it’s rewarding to hear yourself making progress when you’re getting frustrated. While each of the 50 or so puzzles might take just a couple of minutes each if you figure them out quickly, the best feelings are the lightbulb moments after you’ve been stumped and finally figure out a solution. These happen often enough to keep you engaged, but there are enough easy levels to keep the pace from slowing to a halt.

Breaking up the series of puzzles are a litany of moving paintings found throughout, either in plain view or in secret collectible rooms. Occasionally, these turn into interactive paintings that force you to complete some self-contained task within the painting, like finding a correct musical sequence or jumping over obstacles. While these are technically optional, they are some of the highlights of the experience. Filled with robot-armed humanoids, every painting adds to the unsettling tone that the world exudes, and, while they have little direct relation to the story, they are fun and interesting ways to pepper in a different form of gameplay and give a little insight into this other world.

creaks

"What the level design lacks in interplay between monsters, it makes up for in increased design complexity. The harder puzzles aren’t always the ones with the most enemies to avoid, but often those with the most space to cross, usually with the most verticality and environmental changes and requiring multiple steps to complete."

Creaks’ story isn’t particularly straightforward, especially given how you enter the world, and it understandably doesn’t take center stage. After every few puzzles you’re shown a cutscene of a group of bird-people struggling with some unexplained problem, though it does this without any spoken dialogue. While you eventually understand the larger goal, it doesn’t open up until the last handful of scenes. What’s unfortunate about the overarching story is that the player-character feels like a side note in a plot centered around the other characters shown in the cutscenes. Even though you’re solving puzzles, you have few interactions with them, and it feels like you’re watching from the sidelines while they solve the problem, making your involvement only a coincidence. With that said, the story is well-paced and understands that the game’s focus is on its puzzles. The cutscenes it shows are necessary to understand the world and happen infrequently enough so that I was never tired of them happening. The story also wraps up on a fitting and enjoyable climax that makes sure the game doesn’t overstay its welcome in its 5-6 hour runtime, but still answers many of the questions you’re likely to have.

As an indie puzzle game, Creaks makes a surprisingly successful transition from mobile to consoles. While its story seems to want to tell something a lot bigger than it ultimately does, the puzzles are rewarding and challenging enough to keep you engaged without being irritating. Its level and character designs, despite feeling like they could’ve implemented more interplay between enemies, are impressively diverse and thoroughly explored, especially in its more challenging puzzles, and the paintings that break up the time between puzzles are highlights in themselves. Even through its flaws, Creaks is one of those games that I didn’t want to put down because I felt its mobile “one more puzzle” influences, which is how it succeeds in most of what it sets out to do.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.

THE GOOD

Well-balanced puzzles; Intricate level design; Interactive paintings; Lovely soundtrack.

THE BAD

Later puzzles lack needed complexity; Story focus.

Final Verdict

In just a few hours, Creaks puts together a worthwhile experience that might not push boundaries but is definitely worth a look for those craving a lovable puzzler.

A copy of this game was provided by developer/publisher for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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