Among The Sleep – PC
Developer: Krillbite Studio
Publisher: Krillbite Studio
Release Date: May 29, 2014
Genre: Survival Horror
ESRB Rating: N/A
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
“There is no illusion greater than fear.” – Lao Tzu
Among The Sleep is Krillbite Studio‘s first effort at a commercial release, and it’s a worthy effort which includes a fresh perspective, a chilling premise, and interesting execution that tenders suspense and a gnawing sense of unease rather than jump scares and gore.
It’s hard to conceive of a more terrifying situation – the player takes on the role of a toddler on its second birthday. One can scarcely imagine a more fragile and vulnerable hero. While all seems well as the story opens, events soon take an unsettling turn as the infant hears a distorted argument between its mother and an unidentified person. Shortly after, mother tucks child in for the night and the real nightmare (?) begins.
With only its faithful teddy bear for help and support, the youngster must make its way through a series of foreboding environments, each worse than the last in order to gather treasured memories and reunite with its missing parent.
Among The Sleep utilizes genre-standard controls for movement and camera. Additionally, the player can manipulate objects in the environment in order to explore, hide, gather items, or create the means to traverse otherwise impassable obstacles.
Movement is interesting, as crawling is both more rapid and stealthy than walking. Due to the short stature of the protagonist, the ability to peek around corners is very limited in scope and often verges on exposing the player to the very threat that person is trying to avoid. Throughout the game, one wishes for a bit more precise control, but players can quickly adjust to the less-than-reassuring accuracy of controlling tasks like opening and closing doors, and interacting with smaller objects.
Since the game world is based on the Unity Game Engine, players can expect acceptable mechanics and visuals. Although this game features neither groundbreaking graphics or stupefying mechanics, the developers nonetheless create a convincing and menacing world with clever use of shadows, color and of course, the perspective of the toddler. Even Mom and Teddy can appear grotesque and malefic in the right light – or lack thereof. As the narrative occurs over the course of one night, the world is dark and ominous throughout, sometimes requiring the player to hug its faithful bear, bringing forth a dim but welcome light.
Among The Sleep incorporates a very ambient soundtrack, at first as fitful and fleeting as the child’s troubled sleep. Even during the playable intro / tutorial, the ambiance insinuates that all is not as it seems – that the house holds dire secrets barely confined to its dark corners, even in the light of day. As play progresses, louder and more troubling sounds become apparent until players may welcome the relative silence of the empty abode. This title does an excellent job of introducing unsettling aural cues from behind or to the side – never within the field of vision.
One noteworthy factor is the presence of the player’s new toy, a stuffed bear. Although this stout-hearted and loyal buddy sticks with the player throughout the game, the scope of the tantalizing possibilities suggested by such a character are, unfortunately, scarcely explored or exploited. Your faithful colleague is limited to a few hints and some terse warnings about impending danger… but he does make a pretty fair night light.
Unfortunately, the title’s original mechanics are largely limited to the novel movement and perspective. Puzzles are straightforward and easily solved, though with each new memory world increasingly hostile and deadly forces confront the youngster. In most cases, limited perspective and the character’s propensity to be rooted in fear as entities draw near present the most danger to the player. Though certainly no puzzler’s plague, the relatively simple tasks do force the player to expose their fragile avatar to the indifferent night and the things that dwell therein.
The Bottom Line
While the game opens on a joyful scene, there is also an undeniable element of anxiety. Mom seems to jump too quickly and lose her happy thoughts entirely when a ringing doorbell (and the ensuing argument) interrupts the birthday celebration. Even as she leaves her baby to play, she hurries to answer a ringing phone in the background which suggests an absentee father and a confrontational relationship.
As plots go, Among The Sleep‘s is deceptively complex. Are the increasingly corporeal figures that circle ever closer real? Is the babe’s fragile and inexperienced mind creating otherworldly terrors to cope with an even more horrifying reality? And who is responsible for Mom’s disappearance? Are there actual phantoms at work, or is her abduction the result of more mundane machinations?
Is the entire experience simply a nightmare? The fact that your faithful companion and occasional adviser, Teddy is mute just when help is needed most suggests a friend who mostly echoes and amplifies the protagonist’s own intuitive processes. As the game moves toward its climax, the answer is still in doubt…
Some journalists have faulted the game for imprecise controls (these writers are correct, objects don’t always move as you’d like and smaller items can easily be dropped, drawing unwanted attention), but I think the lack of precision is simply another thoughtful, deliberate detail intended by the developers to complete the player’s feeling of vulnerability. Just as the character’s perspective turns a prosaic scene into one of disquiet, Among The Sleep’s controls reinforce the player’s almost total defenselessness by mimicking the awkward fumblings of a toddler without the size, strength or coordination to effectively manipulate its environment.
Clever level design with claustrophobic paths, the unseen but immediate presence of evil and increasingly distant hiding places round out the possibility of doom. Although individual areas are not large, the skewed perspective allows the incautious player to lose his / her bearings, making the possibility of a game-ending fall or an ambush by an entity very real. However, it quickly becomes apparent that in most cases, the maps are made to be traversed in fairly linear fashion.
The game is full of minutiae that ratchet up the tension one agonizing level at a time. Sinister sounds become nearly intangible figures flitting on the edges of vision, and from there the fiends become all too real and deadly. And all the while, the environment adds to the atmosphere with light and shadow, and other more disturbing touches – a playground bereft of children but not motion, an evil swamp prowled by a misshapen hag, a nightmare vision of home sweet home…
Among The Sleep offers enough novelty and a genuinely creepy atmosphere to engage survival-horror fans for the duration, and possibly earn some new aficionados. With due caution and a bit of luck, it can be played through in three-four hours. Props to Krillbite for making the game gender-neutral, a savvy and inclusive decision.
It manages to suggest numerous possibilities and interpretations despite having little formal narrative or exposition; it leaves the player to provide the individual nuances of the story by forcing them to fill in the blanks with elements of their own psyche. In this respect, the writers of Among The Sleep have brought a unique spin to a familiar theme – this game takes its cues from Hitchcock rather than Carpenter or Boll. That alone makes this title a worthwhile experience.
At $20, Among The Sleep is priced evenly with other releases in this genre. As such, it doesn’t represent an outstanding value – other titles in this genre like the Amnesia titles and Outlast have rightfully earned praise; they are are more polished and more fully explore the boundaries of their characters and mechanics. Then again, both have the advantage of featuring adults as principals.
Still, Among The Sleep does deliver gut-wrenching suspense, unsettling sights and sounds and an added aspect of deep-rooted trepidation generated by the player’s own nature and nurture. Survival horror fans should definitely take a closer look at this game. Intriguing and troubling components and effective immersion make this game worthwhile.
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
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