“Among the Sleep is an outstanding title which you really have to play!”
Among the Sleep is the first toy to come out of the box from Norwegian indie developers Krillbite Studio. After a successfully-backed Kickstarter campaign, the developers have completed and released a unique first-person horror story. It sounds like something you’ve heard a hundred times before over the last year or two right? Well, that is where you are wrong, because this horror game is not filled with jump scares, deadly traps or violent back stories. Nope, in this game you simply take on the role, dreams and adventurous imagination of a two year old boy. The usual themes of imminent death, dread and hopeless battles are replaced with helplessness, confusion and innocent fear as you attempt to understand the world around you whilst the monsters of your befuddled imagination make the world an even more frightening place.
It is fair to start by saying that the idea behind this game is fantastic. It is a truly fresh concept, which more often than not is a rare occurrence in the modern gaming industry, and further than that it is something which sounds as though it would be a genuinely interesting experience too. The last game I can personally remember in which I played as a child like this was a Rugrats game on the PlayStation One! But the idea is only part of the battle, and the game itself and how it puts this idea across is what will really earn the brownie points! So for starters, the very basic background to how things start off. It is your second birthday, and your mother leaves the room to argue with an unseen figure at the front door. Following this, she leaves you in your bedroom, where you meet a talking teddy bear. Eventually you find yourself caught up in your dreams, and must traverse the challenges of an adult world whilst walking in a toddlers footsteps, searching for memories to find your mother. All that you know is that she is somewhere out of reach and that she sounds like she is in trouble, and the only way to find her may be to follow your own memories by finding familiar objects within the nightmarish dream-world you have enetered. What’s more, there are scary monsters following you too, and along with your trusty teddy bear you are challenged to take on a world you don’t understand whilst being pursued by figures that you do not know and that you fear.
When your mother leaves you in your bedroom’s play pen, you have the chance to take control of your own two feet for the first time. Naturally, a tutorial period of play teaches you the baby steps of the game; namely movement and interaction. Both of these elements, for some older players, will initially strike you as slightly too easy, mobile and straightforward for a to-the-day two year old child to perform. For example, you are able to walk and run with no problems, and can move relatively large objects in the world, as well as being able to finely manipulate smaller ones. Realistically, these tasks would be much more difficult in the real world, however some leeway must be given in that much of the game is based on the child’s imagination, and theoretically they would understand such notions even if they could not literally perform them. On top of this however, you appear to be unable to communicate with your teddy bear when he speaks to you, which would to some extent be possible for a child of this age, particularly if we are to believe the mind over matter nature of play.
In some ways however, the developers have considered the child protagonist in their design of the game. On a simple level, there is the fact that you are very small and thus objects in the game appear very big by comparison. Objects also look somewhat warped and misshapen given your perspective of them, which along with their size can make them seem both interesting to you and intimidating all at once. You also wobble a bit as you walk around, crawling is faster for you than walking, and should you need to climb then this is a slow and careful process rather than your average game’s leaping about with ease. If you try to run about then you are also prone to falling down, which is a nice touch of realism too. The design of a playable child character then has not been carried out to perfection, but a good level of consideration has been put into the elements of this which most closely influence gameplay. There seems to have been some level of perhaps not making things “too accurate” here so that gameplay does not suffer and is not slowed down by the very idea around which it has been created.
The horror side to the game is carried out through suspense, eeriness and a general sense of how things would appear to a small child. Lightning, for example, sounds like a large explosion and is incredibly bright. Singing and crying sounds in the background of the gameplay are both gentle and unnerving. Objects around the world make shapes which at first glance can genuinely make you jump, such as long coats hung above pairs of shoes. There is some use of jump scares as well, however these are minimal and well integrated, making this a genuinely thrilling experience rather than one which is set out to make you scream. There is also a great level of consideration of the true nature of a child’s fears. Sometimes there will be what appears to be a very clear monster present in your dreams, and you do have to run and hide. At other times however, the idea that something might be after you is used rather than having a constant pursuit throughout the whole of play.
One of the cleverest albeit cutest elements of Among the Sleep however is your Teddy. Not only is he your trusty companion throughout the dreamy adventure on which you embark, but he is also your one thing to hold on to in this scary world. Taking this idea one step further however, the developers have cleverly made Teddy your light source in dark areas, and if you take him off your back and cuddle him, he will light up the world for you. This is a clever idea but more than this a very realistic device which expresses the feeling of safety and company that a child can get from their Teddy bear. If one element of the game really expresses the level of thought which has gone into making this much more than a simple horror game, the role of Teddy is certainly it.
The art style of the game is simplistic, cute and intelligent, and again acts as a constant reminder of the fact that you are playing as a small child. Things which are good and happy in your mind are brightly coloured and friendly looking, while things which are scary or intimidating are much larger and darker in your dreams. This, along with the outstanding use of perception as a tool and some fantastic use of lighting elements, creates the perfect atmosphere to make you believe that what you are seeing is the perspective of the world and the innocent dreams of a small and confused child. In combination with this, the sounds of the game give the eerie and scary feel which really completes the package, but without being designed to be overtly scary. Many of the sounds you hear whilst playing are ominous and unnerving but very few times are they designed to make you jump or scream. Among the Sleep is much more about atmosphere than simply fear, and in this it surpasses many other horror games currently on the market.
Among the Sleep is a remarkable first title from Krillbite and is a triumph in more ways than one. It succeeds in itself at being exactly what it says on the tin; a horror game from the perspective of a child but one which has far more to it that the simple desire to make you jump and scream. The way in which the game has been built and pieced together is fantastic and the experience is one to be admired by both fans of horror games and those who would not normally dream of picking one up. Outside of itself however and in the wider gaming world, both in terms of horror titles and any other genre on the market, Among the Sleep sets out a clear message; there are still plenty of new ideas to be explored in the gaming world, and not every good idea has already been done. As a whole, there is also a simple message which you should take away from this review; Among the Sleep is an outstanding title which you really have to play!
- A fresh and genuinely new idea for a game.
- An entirely new horror experience from a relatively untouched perspective.
- A cleverly designed child protagonist whose thoughts and imagination have determined the expertly designed world in which the story takes place.
- Several fantastic ideas combine to form an outstanding all-round experience.
- Some elements of the nature of the child character and their abilities/inabilities at their age could be open to debate.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.