Among the Sleep Review: Don't be a baby
A two-year-old’s world is small. The things that matter are few - a teddy bear, a puzzle game, and a story book may be all a two-year-old holds dear. A house is a two-year-old’s entire world, outside of some trips to the park. In that small world its fears are simple -- a raincoat and some boots, a creepy tree, or the darkness. Among the Sleep is a game about that small world and the fears it might evoke.
You play from a first-person perspective, from the view of the aforementioned two-year-old. You can crawl to move quickly, or walk on two feet to climb and interact with objects. A door handle is too high for you, so you’ll have to push a chair over and climb up. To reach an object on a countertop you might have to pull out drawers to make a staircase. It starts out with this kind of domestic exploration, but Among the Sleep quickly delves into the surreal, and that’s where it starts to get interesting.
The dreamlike world (or nightmare, depending on the moment) is beautifully crafted and a treat to explore. Most of the game consists of little more than crawling around and taking in the sights, yet I was always engaged. From forests to playgrounds, and deconstructed house environments, Among the Sleep is thick with atmosphere and weirdness.
Along the way, you’ll be assisted by a talkative teddy bear. It’s not a huge leap to think a child would see his stuffed animal as a walking, talking, living thing, but I found the teddy’s narration to be a weak point in the story. Part of what makes playing as a two-year-old so interesting is how little the child understands and comprehends. Written words in the environment are shown as illegible gibberish, for example. That lack of understanding and fear of the unknown is lost somewhat when you have a teddy bear narrator spelling it all out.
The teddy bear does explain your goal -- to seek out four memories of your mother and find your way back to her -- but I’m not sure the explanation adds anything. It’s like a narration in a movie where the plot is already apparent, and I think the game already does a fine job of showing rather than telling without it.
Each memory hunt brings you to a new area with a fresh premise and key items to seek out, like puzzle pieces or key-shaped toys. There are threats to avoid and obstacles to climb. The gameplay is a breezy half-step between Slender’s “walking simulator” vibe and Amnesia’s more physical navigation. When you pull out a drawer to climb onto it, you have to physically grab the drawer and pull it open. Neither aspect of the game is particularly hard though, making this a great option if those games were too much for you.
As a horror game I found Among the Sleep to be effectively atmospheric, but never straight-up terrifying. The game was never a challenge, but that just allowed me to push through to the end and enjoy my time with it. The entire experience was over in under two hours, so it isn’t exactly the next big game you’ll be playing, but it is a worthwhile experience and a nice palate cleanser between other, bigger games.
If only it stayed true to its two-year-old perspective from beginning to end. The anthropomorphized teddy bear is one thing, but some of the themes explored are a little too deep for a small child’s mind to comprehend. Maybe that’s just Krillbite Studio acknowledging that adults will ultimately be playing this game, but some of the revelations felt out of place.
Among the Sleep is ultimately a cool experience worth seeing through to the end. There’s a novelty to the perspective that’s hard to deny, and when the game focuses on that it’s great. If you enjoy a brisk, atmospheric journey from a fresh perspective, Among the Sleep is a solid choice.
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