One of the more unique titles among the recent horror game resurgence, has been the successfully kickstarted Among the Sleep. The excitement is mainly due to the gameplay hook of playing as a two-year-old child. This creeptastic thrillride is a short one, but its narrative hooks will dig deep and be a standout given the shallow gameplay and elementary puzzles that surround it.
Things start off docile and innocent. It’s your second birthday, and the only ones celebrating it are you and your mother. After a disruptive visitor comes, things start to take a turn for the worse. This is where the developers almost tip their hand. You’re then led to your bedroom and are met with your birthday gift, a teddy bear. Once your mom leaves the room, he springs to life like a character from “Toy Story”. His regal voice is calm and soothing. In a great effort to bring cuteness to the eventual horrors that await, squeezing him when you’re scared or can’t see allows him to illuminate the immediate area, as tested by going into the closet and closing the doors.
Later that night, you are awoken by your teddy being taken from you and are tossed from your crib. You crawl or walk around your dimly lit house, and rescue teddy from the washer. Making your way downstairs, you’ll come across books, DVDs, and other items written in what seems a foreign or ancient language – because you can’t read. Once you make it to a playhouse that servers as the game’s hub, you’ll see the arbitrary objectives laid out like letter blocks. By finding a certain number of items, will unlock a thing to end this nightmare. Nothing could be more real to this child.
Despite what the trailers or even the alpha demo would have you believe, Among the Sleep is more adventure game than true horror. For most of your time playing, you’ll be left alone, solving very basic puzzles that involve finding one or a set of items that fit a very specific slot such as a key, or group of owl toys that then allow you to proceed to the next area. You’ll walk or crawl around, and are able to manipulate drawers, chairs, doors, and cabinets by using the mouse to click and pull items. A majority of the game involves repeating these mechanics, especially moving an object to climb to a certain height to open a door or reach a new area.
The game intensifies when you encounter the creature, a large figure that’s blackened with glowy-white eyes and patrols, looking for you while it makes massive and thunderous steps. If you happen to look its way, the screen distorts, shakes, and a high-pitched shrill occupies your senses. You’ll panic as you try to find a hiding place for it to just go away. These moments are far and few between. And it’s entirely possible to avoid contact if you move slow and use the cabinets as tunnels. Other encounters are forced, but in no way challenging or even rewarding for having evaded it.
As a father to children, whatever research has been done about what two-year-olds can and cannot do was then thrown out for creative freedom. The game tells you that crawling is faster than walking, and that you can’t talk – because babies. This child can also draw remarkably well. This is all a farce. In fact, they are the exact opposite of a two-year-old’s capabilities. Perhaps the only thing it does get right is the stumbling. Sprint for too long, and you will trip and fall into a crawl. It works for gameplay purposes, but for me I couldn’t help but be pulled out from the experience of such inaccuracies.
For as fast as Among the Sleep gets going, it also ends just as quickly. At a run time of almost three hours, I had seen and done everything there was to do. The self-contained story involves a twist that can be predicted from the opening moments. There are tons of neat ideas and untapped potential from this first-time developer that just are held back by a change in scope and/or focus. Whatever the reasons, Among the Sleep is still good and worth playing. I just wish the journey and the destination were fleshed out in a more compelling way.
A Steam code was provided by the developer for review purposes