|Console||PC/Mac/Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One|
|Release Year||2014 – 2016|
|Purchase (PC/Mac/Linux)||Click here to purchase from Steam.|
|Purchase (PlayStation 4)||Click here to purchase from Amazon.|
Among the Sleep is one of those gems of the indie horror community that managed to present more possibilities to the genre. It’s not very often that you get to play a game where you’re a baby, especially in a horror game. The only other game like that I know of is Baby Blues, a freeware game that plays similarly to Slender: The Eight Pages. The difference, though, is that Among the Sleep is an adventure rather than a game where you have to collect items and reach a goal.
Things That Go Bump in the Night
So with the basic premise in mind, Among the Sleep starts off with a small sequence where your loving mother coddles you during your second birthday. Then you receive a present from her, a sentient teddy bear named Teddy. Later that evening, both Teddy and your mother have vanished. Slowly but surely, the house turns into a dark and twisted nightmare world and it’s up to you to locate the whereabouts of everyone.
The gameplay is standard first-person exploration, with some handicaps to work with as an infant. Since the game is built with the Unity engine, it also comes with a slightly clunky camera control. Your default walking speed is slow, but you can crawl on the floor to move faster. You can also run but you’re likely to fall onto the ground if you run for too long. The baby also can’t jump so the only way to reach higher places is to find a suitable object to climb onto (such as a chair or cabinet drawer). This is necessary for progressing through the game as you have to open many doors with handles being out of your reach. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t get any more complex than when you initially get used to it.
Eventually, you will reunite with Teddy who will guide you through the dreamlike world and even act like your light source when you hug him. Then you will slowly proceed through the darkness, noticing small movements up ahead and some strange noises. It’s an adorable little touch that adds to the experience.
There is also some minor puzzle-solving involved, usually physics-based. For the most part, these puzzles are easy once you understand what you need to do next. The biggest difficulty in the game is just finding out where you need to go next, but even that is not that tough since exploration is guaranteed to give you results.
And of course, there are monsters too. The big advantage of being an infant is that you’re small enough to hide in places where the monsters can’t hope to reach you. But the tradeoff is that you’re so vulnerable that getting caught by a monster will result in a game over immediately. Just the simple fact that you’re a toddler actually makes this a more terrifying experience. Also minding the fact that you’re in a surreal world where the landscape can make drastic changes, it’s like going through the disturbed corners of Wonderland.
Your main objective is to find four memories of your mother in order to open a door, which will apparently lead to her. For each memory you find, the door will lead you into a different world. Sometimes, you will enter distorted version of your house. In one situation, you will enter the dark, murky wilderness where a giant demon haunts. I love how the environments can have some childlike wonder to them, but also feel lonely and sinister.
The sound design is pretty good too. Throughout the game, you can hear your mother sobbing or singing from seemingly beyond reality. It’s like she’s both far away and close by, but you can never quite reach her. The sound cues also give you a clue whether monsters are nearby, even when you have no idea where they will pop up from.
In This Story, Less is More
What sets Among the Sleep apart from most horror games is that it isn’t a cautionary tale, a story of survival or a gorefest. On its surface, it seems like a surreal adventure with bits of childlike fantasy and psychological horror added in. But reading between the lines, it’s a tragic slice of life from the perspective of a toddler. Even when a baby doesn’t understand what’s going on, the emotions are real.
Among the Sleep is also one of those few horror games that doesn’t rely heavily on backstory or worldbuilding. Everything you know about the game happens right in front of you, which is a very effective way to tell a story. There are no flashbacks or journey entries to temporarily interrupt the present events, so you have a more smoothly paced and straightforward game.
The story is very simple, but there is also some depth from its more open-ended bits. The game is ripe with symbolism that foreshadow the truth behind present events, from Teddy helping the infant search for his mother to empty bottles lying around in strange places to sketches of a monstrous figure intimidating a smaller figure. And when you get to that touching ending, everything ties together swimmingly.
Sadly, the entire experience is only about 2-3 hours long. If there’s anything big that Among the Sleep is missing, it’s a long, involved story that culminates into a beautiful and touching climax. Unless you want to go through that journey again, there’s not much point in investing time into a second playthrough. Still, that missing potential is still there and you can tell that there’s passion behind all that modeling work and the deliberate game design choices to make the game feel more authentic. And this is why Among the Sleep is much better played than watching someone else play it, because you won’t get the entirely same experience if you’re not the one putting yourself through these trials.
Later on, the game got a new downloadable chapter simply known as Prologue. Once again, you’re the infant and you’re in a different house on a quest to find and collect five of your beloved toys—who are also sentient like Teddy. Unlike the main game, Prologue is more of a collection quest in a similar vein to Slender: The Eight Pages and Baby Blues. The gameplay is very much the same, but the situation is a little different. Your toys are frozen because the windows inside the house are open during a cold, wintry night, so you also have to find a way to thaw them out. However, you have to do all this under the nose of a shadowy monster that haunts the hallways.
This chapter only adds about 30 – 45 minutes of extra playtime, assuming you don’t get a game over that often. Still, it’s worth playing just to get a better grasp on the game’s backstory as well as seeing how the infant copes with his surroundings.
Ultimately, Among the Sleep is a short gaming experience but it is a unique specimen among horror titles and does its best to tell a story with minimal exposition through the eyes of someone too young to even speak. The game is best experienced during nighttime with your headphones on, so put on your jammies, hold on to your teddy bear and hope that the monsters don’t get you…
Among the Sleep
- It's a unique premise fully realized.
- The story is straightforward and relies very little on backstory, but there is also some depth through its symbolism.
- The dreamlike environments are pretty nice and the individual models are well animated.
- Sound design is pretty good, suited for headphone use.
- The unique baby mechanics are underutilized.
- The game is very short, only lasting about 2-3 hours.