Among the Sleep (2015)
Developer: Krillbite Studio
Note: This review is specifically based on Among the Sleep: Enhanced Edition released in 2017.
My partner and I like to play horror games together, and many of those have been indie games I've reviewed here. Each these should probably come with the disclaimer that I played through about half the game and I watched my partner play the other half, especially when it gets too intense for me. We were in a spooky mood and I'd been curious about Among the Sleep for a while. Among the Sleep is a first-person horror game where you play as baby traversing a dream-like world influenced by their real life and their fears. Among the Sleep definitely presents a perspective and story unlike any other I've played before, but this Enhanced Edition could have done more to make the gameplay more enjoyable and less finicky.
I think anyone can see the appeal of a such a unique premise. It's a horror game, but you're just a little baby waddling around the world? I figured this meant that although it might be scary, it'll feel fairly "safe". You play from a first-person point of view of the baby, who's having a birthday celebration with their mom. Although it's a sweet, joyous occasion, it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not okay in this household. Our mom seems upset and angered by a guest at the door, and we get the feeling it could be an intruder that will come back to haunt us later. This made me suspicious of everything in the early game, including Teddy, our new stuffed animal friend. He's sweet and warm, but definitely a little creepy as well. Early on, I felt the only one person we could trust was our mom, but she was nowhere to be found for a long period of time where we explores the house.
Among the Sleep goes from being colorful and vibrant in the baby's room to being dark and empty when you traverse further into the dream-like world. Although you travel through what appears to be your home, the environment starts to shift further and further from reality. This includes the fact that, as a baby, you are somehow nimble and strong enough to climb up up chairs, tables, and even ceiling-tall filing cabinets. It reminded me a little bit of Little Nightmares in its clever use of average-sized everyday objects as climbable environments, which I really enjoy. The intractability with everything around you is really fun as you're able to throw toys and even plates, shattering them on to the kitchen floor (you know I love to shatter some plates). Much of the story is being told to you through small details you encounter, such as childlike drawings that I assume were drawn by the protagonist. It gets a little more ominous when you're literally crawling through littered glass bottles. Also, the Enhanced Edition that I played also included a newly added "prologue" portion, which actually ended up adding about an hour of gameplay and a little bit more to the story.
Unfortunately, I found too often I was running across some glitchy moments, despite the fact that I was playing the new and improved Enhanced Edition of the game. Climbing on to surfaces is a lot more precise and tricky than it should be. Instead of just clicking the right button when you're close enough to a climbing surface, you have to make sure you're positioned in the right angle. Many times I had to repeatedly press the button until I could finally get up, or I would fall before I could get up because I moved around too much. It's possible this was a purposeful choice so that your controls would be clumsy, like a baby's movements would be? It's hard to tell if that's the reason, though, and it just caused frustrations at a couple points. I happened to capture a video of what I believe was a strange glitch causing me to fall through the ground - unless there was really just a secret hole to nowhere behind that door.
I was wrong to think that the horror and chase of Among the Sleep wouldn't be as intense or scary because you're a baby. The monster that lurks this world is often far away in the distance, but as soon as it gets close your screen shakes and a horrible sound is made. It was hard not completely freak out when that would happen, even though if you can quickly hide or move out of the way you'll be good. There was one instance where I simply turned around to see behind me and the monster was right there already, and I finally saw its face up-close. This was my "scream and throw the remote" moment where I had to pass it back to my partner to play for a little while. The monster does not hold back and it WILL get you, I learned. The design is haunting and a lot more human-like than I would have expected. Another time later on, though, I found that sometimes the monster can sometimes just appear next to you, not leaving you any time to run and hide before it gets you. As you delve deeper into the story, you slowly start to pick up the pieces and hints about who this monster is and how it connects to this little baby.
The premise of Among the Sleep is excellent and the unique way you move about the world as a baby was both immersive and somewhat silly. The story cleverly misleads you and then reveals to you the truth you were choosing to ignore, perhaps much darker than what you would expect from this game. I recommend it, but I wish the Enhanced Edition would have gone a little further in making the gameplay more smooth and responsive. It's not quite like any other horror game out there, and playing as a tiny defenseless human definitely makes the world around you all the more frightening.
Among the Sleep is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 5 hrs