Among the Sleep is an interesting take on horror and it succeeds for unexpected reasons.
Earlier in the week, our very own nfgDan pointed me in the direction of Among the Sleep, an indie horror title that’s been recently been ported to consoles.
Developed by Krillbite, Among the Sleep was originally published in 2014 but has jumped over onto the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 somewhat recently.
Among the Sleep
Developer: Krillbite Studio
Publisher: Krillbite Studio
Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Price: $14.99 Steam
Teddy is a Toddler’s Best Friend
Players take on the role of a 2-year old toddler, and this is where most of Among the Sleep‘s charm resides. The game is very quick to illustrate some of the effects this will have on you. Your mother gives you a stuffed bear, named Teddy, who instantly comes to life
Teddy encourages you to explore your nursery by pulling out drawers to scale tall pieces of furniture. He also brings the player into the cupboard which, in the darkness, becomes a confusing maze. It’s a nice precursor to the coming adventure.
The action of the game starts with Teddy being dragged from the nursery in the middle of the night by an unseen force, to be found in a washing machine. Teddy and the player embark on a quest to find the toddler’s mother, who is strangely absent from the house.
Thus the game’s story launches with the player trying to collect memories in a variety of locations to find his mother.
It’s very easy to fall in love with the world created in Among the Sleep. The art is charming and varied. Before the toddler’s horrifying adventure begins, the house is cute, bright, with lots of pastel colours.
I found myself being sucked into the role of the toddler exploring my various toys and climbing up on the chest of drawers.
After your mother puts you to bed, the world takes a turn for the worse. Things are strewn around the floor, it’s storming outside, and that’s just the house.
The toddler will move through different areas in his quest to find his mother, including a twisted playground, a house overgrown with trees, and a closet. Each of these areas are crafted delicately to be somewhat disturbing but, more than anything, aid the story of the game.
Playing as a toddler provides interesting challenges for navigating the game. Among the Sleep doesn’t have to work hard to put obstacles in your way when you need to climb up on chairs to turn door handles.
Simple exploration turns the game into a physics puzzle, and it’s quite exceptional. Where it falls down, however, is that the toddler is some kind of super human. He can overcome all kinds obstacles without complaint and survive the treacherous landscapes with impunity.
When exploring the Forested House, the trees have drawers that can be pulled out for climbing. While this is an over-generalisation of a mechanic, it isn’t entirely inconsistent with the plot. It would be good for this to be fleshed out a little more with extra variety in mechanical achievement.
Among the Sleep is almost entirely driven by metaphor.
I’m going to say this once: Among the Sleep is a game you should consider playing twice (or, better yet, make a friend play it while you watch). It’s short – about three hours play time – and so is pretty easy to do this.
Everything in the game has a purpose, and this purpose may not be entirely clear the first time round. Some of the elements can be easily written off as stereotypical horror tactics but their deeper meanings are explored later in the game.
One spoiler-free example is the Teddy. Like many horror games, much of your time will be spent in the dark. In other games, this is the physical property of the environment: for example, an abandoned mineshaft with no lights is dark.
In Among the Sleep, there is a mixture: some areas are dark but on other occasions the darkness is a metaphor for the child’s fear. As such, the darkness can be conquered by feeling more secure. Mechanically, this is achieved by hugging Teddy closely. It’s a great stylistic change but in function feels unexplored.
Sadly, this relegates the mechanic to a glorified torch.
Stop And Smell The Roses
In horror, the is a temptation to rush. Lingering around provides the monsters extra opportunities to catch you. Among the Sleep is similar. Your moves, when you make them, should be efficient and calculated. But take the time to stop and smell the roses.
Once you reach the end of the game, you’ll be kicking yourself if you accidentally overlooked one detail in the environment because Krillbite have made the effort to keep their message consistent. Maybe it’s finding the drawings scattered throughout; maybe it’s noticing that text in the game is written in unintelligible language because the toddler hasn’t developed language yet.
Take your time and this game will reward you more than most.
How Does Among the Sleep Stack Against Other Horror?
There can be no denying that Among the Sleep includes traditional horror elements. It plays with the player’s vision and hearing. The monsters are overbearing and dangerous.
There is a pervasive feeling of helplessness throughout the game, mitigated somewhat by the superhuman abilities of this toddler.
Is it the scariest game I’ve played? No. Not by a long shot. I most certainly enjoyed the game but not because it brings anything new to the horror genre.
The monsters themselves are unthreatening to the player. Insofar as imagined fear manifests as actual fear, I didn’t feel particularly worried about these monsters. Having said that, players who play through the game in its entirety will be rewarded with an explanation about the monsters.
Ultimately, having come from a Kickstarter campaign, Among the Sleep is a tribute to burgeoning game designers. It perfectly blends storytelling with horror experiences in a way that other games, like Until Dawn, couldn’t.
Anyone who knows my taste in games will know that I sing the praises of games that tell a convincing story and, in this arena, I would rank Among the Sleep up there amongst the titans like Heavy Rain.