Among The Sleep Preview: Babes in Terrorland
A Surreal (Puzzly) World
Apart from the supernatural happenings taking place throughout the house, there seems to be a tenuously thin line between the real and the surreal in Among The Sleep. Finding the teddy, for example, is a matter of following the sounds of him gasping, waterlogged, for help. Remove him from danger and he whispers, “We have to find your mother,” providing you with your marching orders going forward. As doors open themselves and objects move of their own accord, you’ll start to wonder just what is reality and what is a product of your two-year-old’s imagination.
The living teddy is one thing, but things continue to grow weirder over time. As you venture further through the house, now in search of your mother, you soon find yourself outside her closed bedroom. Making your way through the closet (which has a door to the hallway for some reason — maybe the floor plan is also imaginary), you get a glimpse of her bedroom through the slits in the closet door. There’s a rustling, and the blankets on the bed move with a figure clearly beneath them; but you have to get into the room to find out who it is.
This is where the actual play mechanics in Among The Sleep come in. Since you can’t fight or run and you’re, like, a baby, your major interactions with the world are of the problem-solving variety. The demo presents environmental puzzles: sliding a chair over to the door, and unplugging the washer to open it.
Here in the closet, the puzzle is ever-so-slightly more complex. There’s nothing to push to the closet door, but there’s a chest of drawers against the wall. You’re able to manipulate things like doors and drawers by clicking them when you’re close and dragging your mouse to move them, and so pulling out a couple of drawers creates stairs that you can climb. Pulling out the big center drawer gives you a bridge to the door handle that gets you into the bedroom.
In Search of Mother
As you might expect, though, even once you’ve climbed onto the bed and pulled back the covers, there’s no mother beneath them. In fact, there’s nothing there at all, and it’s here that the player gets a second glimpse of the creature that seems to be hunting you, a somewhat spindly black figure. It vanishes in a flash of lightning, and the only thing left to guide you is distant singing of your mother’s voice.
Following sounds and other environmental clues will also likely be a big part of how Among The Sleep is presented, but don’t expect to spend a lot of time wandering off the path the game lays out for you. You can look around a bit in any given area, but the game is guiding you down a particular, linear path, with obstacles and scripted events aligned along the way. Even if you could explore more, there wouldn’t be much point. The baby moves pretty slowly even when crawling along the floor, and it’s not like you can find extra ammo by looking behind the rocking horse shrouded in shadow in the corner. The environments are mostly pretty lush, but they’re set dressing and little else.
That said, the game does a great job of driving you forward without prompting you. You catch the sound of the humming of your own accord, and it grows louder as you progress, so there’s a very organic feeling of finding your way forward — even if it’d be obvious you’re being herded if you were to look around too much. A few steps later, you discover stairs that lead downward, walled off by a strange, shimmering energy like a pool of water. Entering it seems to take you into some kind of strange, momentary pseudo-reality; you may well be passing from the real world into some other supernatural world in this moment. At the bottom of the stairs, there’s what looks like a giant boiler, and you have to crawl through a hole and shove bricks out of the way to get into the room.
Here, your mother’s singing is loudest, and it becomes obvious that the boiler isn’t a boiler at all — it’s a big pipe, large enough for you to climb into. With nowhere else to go, you can climb up and slide down the pipe. At this point, Among The Sleep takes a turn for the weirdest, with the baby landing on a hunk of land that’s floating among other broken, jagged islands. Across a couple of wood planks is a door to a small house. Though light comes from inside, we can’t open it; instead, we have to send the teddy through a broken window, and he opens it from the other side.
It’s here that the alpha ends, though not without a short teaser video full of clips. The end result, maybe 20 minutes of gameplay and less if you’ve been through it once, leaves a lot more questions than it answers. But Krillbite has said that the alpha is meant to give a sense of what Among The Sleep will be, and the demo seems to accomplish that task. You can expect it to be driven by light puzzles and a sense of exploration, and tempered with jump scares and an atmosphere of uncanny dread that permeates both its real-world locales and its more surrealistic visions.
You can check out the alpha for yourself on the Among The Sleep Kickstarter page, where you can also donate to the game.