Among the Sleep is the product of a $248K Kickstarter campaign. This successfully funded project had a huge pre-release following of those who believed this was a worthy game concept. Can 8,000 people be wrong?
Game – Among the Sleep
Platform – Xbox One
Developer/Publisher – Krillbite Studio
Release date – June 6, 2016
Price – $14.99
Among the Sleep is officially dubbed a first person horror adventure. The especially twisted premise involves the protagonist: a two year old boy. The game opens up on the boy in a highchair with his mother feeding him a birthday cake: complete with an airplane spoon and a num-num hangar. The warmth of the opening is cut short as a mysterious stranger arrives at the door with a present for the child. The mother, upset by the visitor, carries the child to his room and sets the present on the dresser.
The player takes control of the child, thumping and scrambling around the room, playing with all his toys, a train set, and letter blocks. After some clever finagling of dresser drawers, the player is able to guide the child to the present. The box is empty. Then a few incredibly creepy giggles later there’s something new in the toy chest. The child finds an emaciated teddy bear. It’s bug eyed with a band-aid on its arm, and it has a questionable desire to play around the room with him. Then the teddy bear gets bored, and wants to… show the child something. It leads him into the closet, and asks him to shut the door. Once the door is shut, and the player sees nothing but pitch black, the child turns around to find some seriously dark and sinister objects inside.
Among the Sleep is masterful at creating suspense through unsettling atmosphere. Scratch for a moment the idea of a two-year-old with a skeptical teddy bear standing in the dark. There is a plethora of genuinely unpredictable moments in the game. Long, warped hallways lead to uneven doors to nowhere. Sequences take place in rooms filled with nothing but oblong (and lifelike) trench coats on hangars. There are even people sitting at the edge of beds… and sometimes they turn out to be nothing more than tucked away boots. The game doesn’t even bombard the player with supernatural, and it manages to remain chilling for the first hour or so. It’s around this time that the player starts to get gutsy… and this is when the slender-esque character starts to make its appearance.
The toddler is equipped with nothing more than the warmth and light of the teddy bear. Squeeze it or don’t, the child is virtually defenseless. The child can walk and run for a spell before falling down. The best mode of transportation is crawling, and it goes against every self-respecting horror gamer’s reflex. The title is mostly A-B destination travel with a few instances when something has to be moved to create a new platform. Among the Sleep is a story-driven horror title, and the overwhelming tension deserves some accolades. The real struggle comes from the drop off about halfway through the game.
What Among the Sleep creates in atmosphere, it diminishes in its low-stakes gameplay. The unease of having a 2-year-old protagonist settles quickly enough, and there’s nothing left but the mystery behind the main plot to keep the player moving forward. The “Slender” creature isn’t as terrifying after a while, and its absence becomes less suspenseful and more opportunistic. Granted, the end reveal is reasonably unexpected, but the journey unravels before the ending makes its impact. The game does however manage to take rather heavy subject material and illustrate the helplessness and disorientation of a young child faced with upheaval. Gamers looking for Silent Hill will turn up with empty palms, but the tale is rather saddening in its own right.
The game features chapter select as well as hidden pictures and objects throughout the game. Achievement hunters will find it relatively easy to grind out and find the pages (and hidden objects) over maybe 1-2 playthroughs, and it’s a relatively low difficulty game title. In fact, it’s so very low difficulty that the game only ends up being a few hours long, which is a pretty big letdown for a title that had such a high ceiling of possibilities. Ultimately, the game held a brilliant premise that would seem cheapened if duplicated and unsatisfying in its current state. Among the Sleep can be catalogued as a game worth adding to the notch in a gamer’s horror belt, but it’s a notch that doesn’t bear a whole lot of weight.
Among the Sleep is more indicative of the developer Krillbite Studio’s power to generate discomfort and suspense than it is a game for the ages. It fails to deliver any big punches, but it still lingers well after the fight is over. Everything in the game is honest to the integrity of the story, and the psychological impact stands to be the game’s greatest triumph. This seemed to be the mission statement anyway, and therefore, Among the Sleep delivers in the ways it intended.
Avoid if you need a game filled with action and gore. Play if you’re looking for a game with a brilliant start and finish… and an unsettling middle.