"Hush Little Baby..": Among The Sleep Review
I first gave a nod to Among the Sleep a few weeks ago as an honorable mention in my article about retail indie titles. The psychological horror game from Krillbite Studios may have only piqued my interest when it was given it's on-disc release, but given its popularity on Steam and the success of its initial crowdfunding campaign, I was clearly at least a little late to the party.
Luckily, there isn't much to miss out on or spoil for someone who hasn't followed the game from its inception, and despite its rather short playtime, there's quite a lot of power packed into this indie darling. Presented in first person, Among The Sleep puts you in the feety pajamas of a little boy who receives a stuffed bear from the uncanny valley as one of his presents on his second birthday. Surprisingly, this bear turns out to be your ally, rather than your antagonist, providing you with a familiar voice, source of light, and sense of companionship as you traverse the game’s disturbing yet immersive levels.
The level design, though only seen via so many examples, is easily Among The Sleep’s greatest strength. The disorienting and decrepit areas the boy traverses looking for his mother are put together quite immaculately and provide the exact sensation Krillbite Studios is going for -- in the dark, through the eyes of a small child, what is there to be afraid of, and what is just your imagination? What is just a trick of the light? The uncertainty that hounds the player throughout the game is what makes the bear’s companionship an unexpected yet welcome presence.
The lack of any real gameplay elements, save for exploration and light puzzle solving makes Among The Sleep more like a scary walking simulator than anything else (like NERO or Ether One), at least, that is, for the first half of the game. The last two levels finally introduce a tangible threat, as you must sneak past and hide from a shadowy, demonic manifestation of your mother that will chase you down and end the game if you're caught. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch after a few hours of waiting for the monster around the corner that repeatedly fails to appear, and it makes for my only real gripe with the game. Although I really enjoyed the design of the Slender-esque mother creature in the last two levels, I personally would have preferred consistency even in the absence of real danger, especially since “real” danger to a two-year old protagonist seems a bit shaky.
The way a typical player responds to Among The Sleep is ultimately going to come down to how they feel about getting their money’s worth from a title. There's no question that it makes one hell of an impression with an objectively short playtime, certainly enough to make up for being a “tale of two games.” The final verdict as far as recommendations go essentially hinges on whether you are likely to describe a powerful six-hour experience as “fleeting,” or whether you’re likely to get excited over a game that’s “short and sweet.” If you can get it cheap on Steam or another service, or if you are interested in the $20 physical copy from a collector’s perspective, horror fans won't have to think too hard before pulling the trigger.