Certain developers – true auteurs of the industry – are instantly recognisable from their work. Amanita Design, Czech indie veterans and developers of quirky hits Machinarium, Botanicula, and the Samorost series, are one of those developers. Creaks is a continuation of their signature flair, demonstrating yet again why they’re such a consistent force in the industry.
We open to find our scrawny protagonist sitting alone in his dilapidated room reading books. A sudden tremor reveals a hidden hatch behind some peeling wallpaper – a questionable rabbit-hole that our hero chooses to venture into, emerging in a subterranean world filled with mysterious bird-like inhabitants, dangerous creatures, and something much larger and more fearsome looming in the darkness.
Unlike other Anamita games that have focused primarily on point & click gameplay, Creaks is a more traditional puzzle experience. As you explore this labyrinthine world, you’ll be tasked with completing self-contained puzzles involving switches, levers, and unique monsters that behave in predictable patterns to be manipulated to your advantage. Light provides a safe haven for your character, but will also transform any creatures caught under it into inanimate objects such as wooden chairs or coat racks, which can then be pushed around as required. Solving puzzles in Creaks relies on your ability to think a certain number of moves ahead as you determine the sequence required for all actions to take place to reach the exit. For this writer, the balance of difficulty was perfect, providing plenty of head-scratching moments without ever being too difficult to solve unaided, resulting in that euphoric satisfaction that’s only found in the finest puzzle games.
There is a level of conservatism in Creaks’ puzzle design which begins to manifest as repetition – particularly if you play this 5-6 hour title in a short space of time. This is offset for the player by making the journey through Creaks a cinematic and artistic marvel of audiovisual design. There’s no dialogue in Creaks, and any interaction between characters is delivered through grunts, tweets, and the occasional trumpet solo, preventing anything from detracting from the purity of its delivery. Armanita’s signature hand-drawn sketches are dark, detailed, and beautiful, creating an atmosphere that sits somewhere between Roahl Dahl and Tim Burton, capturing the creepy magic of children’s fiction without ever entering the realms of adult horror or anything too sinister for children to enjoy. The sounds of movement are constant; the cracking, dripping, and yes, creaking of this world as it’s broken apart by a hidden threat are a constant companion to you on your journey, and a brilliant original score (by Hidden Orchestra) peaks with superb explosions of jazz at opportune moments of adrenaline-fuelled excitement.
For those looking for an extra challenge, collectables are scattered throughout in the form of clockwork paintings, each depicting a scene relating to the feathery inhabitants. Some of these paintings contain mini-games, offering brief enjoyable breaks from puzzling. But in such a rich and beautiful world, I would have appreciated more interaction with the environment. Other than the cinematic set pieces, I found movement and interaction mostly incidental, and there was rarely an opportunity to do anything outside of the script.
Creaks is new territory for Armanita design, and although they played it a little safe in their puzzling formula, each is well-balanced and thoroughly satisfying. A stunning audiovisual presentation captures every ounce of what Armanita games are about, rich in detail and atmosphere. It’s a tale of mystery that keeps up the intrigue from start to finish, and it deserves a place in every genre fan’s library.
Creaks is a children’s dream in motion. Beautifully atmospheric and mysterious from start to finish, it loses points only in its by-the-numbers puzzle design and a yearning left in the player for more interaction with this gorgeous world.