Version Tested: PC
Also available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac OS
Developer: Killbrite Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft Studios
Genre: Survival horror, Adventure game
Among The Sleep is a unique concept, considering you play as a toddler in a first person perspective. The premise is typical for the horror genre; your mom is abducted, and you must find her before its too late. The difference for Among The Sleep, however, is that the setting is anything but traditionally terrifying, as you see things as a toddler would. Moreover, the childlike viewpoint makes the world all the scarier, as you crawl through the world, trying to make sense of what your character is perceiving as reality. Overall, Among The Sleep is a good game, that, unfortunately, falls somewhat short in important areas.
Summary of Story And Comments:
The story begins as a toddler (the player) is having his birthday celebration at his home with his mother. The celebration is interrupted by a visitor at the front door who is hidden from the player, but the story suggests it is the player’s father, with whom the mother has divorced. This interaction (although hidden) sets an important precedent about what direction the developers are taking the game. When the mother returns, she appears rather disheveled, carrying a present, and promptly takes the toddler upstairs to his bedroom to play. When she leaves, you pursue your present and open it up to find Teddy.
The plot of the game begins in the night when the toddler wakes up to a missing Teddy. The crib becomes overturned, and the player escapes. The player leaves the bedroom, exploring the seemingly abandoned and ominous house. Once near the laundry room, the player notices that the washing machine is on, proceeds into the room and pulls teddy out of the machine. The bear remarks ‘something is not right’, and that they need to find his mother. The way Teddy eerily mentions the need to find his mother sets the tone for the rest of the game. The search then translates into a journey through several surreal environments, each returning to the same isolated house surrounded by darkness.
Teddy instructs the player to find four memories the child shared with their mother that will lead them to her. The memories take the forms of four objects: Her pendant from her necklace shown at the start of the game, the music box she plays to put him to sleep at night, a story book, and the pink elephant. Each of these memories are scattered across different environments, including a dark cabin beside a murky lake and a violently distorted version of your own home.
Gameplay and Environment:
One of the greatest aspects of the game is the utilization of Teddy to guide the character through the world. Teddy provides a comforting presence, providing light (when hugged), and guidance, illuminating the dark. In many ways, teddy serves as a coping mechanism when the toddler is faced with the unthinkable.
The graphics of the game are above average, and the environment is immersive. The developers put a lot of though into how to depict a horror setting for a toddler. I greatly enjoyed the inclusion of scattered children’s toys throughout the world, larger then life furniture, as well as use of childhood objects such a, teeter totter to gain higher ground and a slide to gain access to a new level. The levels are also spattered with eerie drawings by (presumably) an infant, which provide clues as to the true nature of the haunted world the player roams. The music is simple, but the sound effects (subtle movement noises) are quite good, enhancing the overall experience.
Gameplay consists mostly of simple puzzle solving, pressing buttons and finding keys to obtain each memory. The main repeated mechanic however usually involves manipulating the environment to reach a new area, such as stacking objects, pulling out dresser drawers and pushing boxes to reach higher ground. Although the stacking/pulling mechanic gets a bit tedious, the surrounding environment, with its unsettling noises, keeps the game pace constantly moving. Later on, the player will be repeatedly pursued by various apparitions, and must time their movements and use cover to avoid detection. The gameplay is admittedly ultra simplistic, but from the standpoint of playing as a toddler, it makes sense.
Nevertheless, for those seeking to be truly scared, the game never builds momentum enough to truly scare you. I can say that I was startled quite a few times but never terrified. In my opinion, the main monster was the biggest problem of the game. For the most part, its visually boring, and it roams around different areas so you usually know where it is. I guess the best comparison would be an enemy you have to sneak around either because its too early in the game and its integral to the plot, or you’re too weak to take it on (or both). The monster even gets irritating because it is more of a sporadic inconvenience as you search for a puzzle, rather then something you are genuinely afraid of. I think the game would have benefited by keeping the monster hidden throughout the game so that you never know when or where it would appear. Along the way, we could have seen shadows, toys drop from out of nowhere, plates fall off counter tops, etc., indicating the presence of a monster without actually seeing it.
My final criticism is the ending. I think anyone who gets to the final level will have at least an idea of what the finale is. While I appreciate that the developers explored a largely untapped area of the horror game arena, for me, it wasn’t shocking. I also think that the ending is much too short, especially considering how psychologically heavy it is. In my opinion, the developers could have benefited from having at least one more hour of gameplay, with the final hour exposing the toddlers past.
All in all, I think that Among The Sleep is a game that is worthy of being played. However, because it is only around three hours, I would wait until it is on sale for at least 10 dollars or less (ideally).
You can get Among The Sleep on steam.