Posted on June 6, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Among The Sleep Review: Childhood Nightmares
If a nightmare was dumped out of a child’s head and onto a computer screen, it’d probably look a lot like Among The Sleep.
The first-person horror game’s best feature is the twisted world in which players find themselves as they inhabit the body of a two-year-old. Pulled from his crib in the night by some invisible force, the toddler embarks on a mission to find his mother with the help of a talking teddy bear. Among The Sleep quickly warps everyday things like clothing and furniture into menacing forces.
The child’s perspective brings questions to Among The Sleep’s dark proceedings. Are the strange locales real or imaginary? Are the creeping sounds just beyond the door really there, or just the result of restless sleep? Are there real dangers lurking behind the walls of the house, or is there truly nothing to fear?
Among The Sleep spends its short runtime beautifully posing and answering those questions. Though the game winds up being a bit thin on scares, and the early going is something more like a spooky funhouse without any actual dangers, Among The Sleep makes up for those shortfalls with a high degree of atmosphere and an imaginative take on some tried-and-true horror game tropes.
Drilled down to its simplest elements, Among The Sleep is a horror game that joins the recent swath of titles that are about hiding and avoiding monsters. Titles like Slender: The Arrival, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast and Daylight all come to mind; just like in those games, you’re completely defenseless in Among The Sleep, and have to explore the world cautiously as a result.
Being small has some advantages — you can often hide under objects without much difficulty — but the game is mostly about your disadvantages. You can switch at any time between crawling and walking; you’ll need to crawl to move with any kind of speed, but the slower, unbalanced walking is necessary to do anything from opening a door to climbing over a barricade. Knowing when to sacrifice your capabilities for speed is pretty much the primary skill of Among The Sleep, along with some light puzzle-solving.
Those puzzles mostly come up in terms of finding ways to navigate the environment to make up for being small. Occasionally you’ll run up against a locked door of one sort or another and work to find a way around it, or the key you need to open it, hidden somewhere else in the area. It’s never too difficult — if something looks interactive, it is, and puzzle solutions are in pretty obvious places. It’s navigating to those locations and avoiding dangers that present some challenge.
Despite what the first hour of Among The Sleep might make players believe, there really are deadly creatures hidden in the game. For much of the opening, the scares are presented as little more than clever jump-outs and creepy sound design. Krillbite deeply understands how to effectively use sound to unnerve players, alternately presenting a creaking house, an awake and aware forest, a bubbling swamp, and more as players move through each level. All of the locales sound as if they’re home to lurking things that are aware of your movements, and it’s completely unnerving.