The stuff of nightmares and reality.
Soedesco strikes again. Hot off the heels of N.E.R.O. (Nothing Ever Remains Obscure), Soedesco published another indie game – this time in the shape of an exploration horror title, Among the Sleep. I’ve long heard many positives about Among the Sleep, and I remember watching some let’s play videos back when it originally released on PC. The game certainly intrigued me, but having actually gotten a chance to play it, I can say that I appreciate it much more now – at least as far as the narrative goes.
Among the Sleep is a first person exploration psychological horror game in a similar style as Slenderman and, perhaps, Amnesia. In Among the Sleep, you’re given a twist on the first person horror genre: you play as an infant. Yes, you crawl around as a very young baby in a blue one piece, guided by your (kind of) creepy teddy bear. If this doesn’t really resonate you, continue reading; I hope to change your mind.
The narrative in Among the Sleep begins in a colorful baby’s room. You are able to walk, run (until you lose your baby balance), or crawl, as well as interact with numerous objects. As the opening progresses, you’re given the opportunity to play and interact with just about everything in your room, from your blocks to your toy train. Your teddy, soon, begins to talk to you, and he asks you lots of fun questions about your toys. As you take him around to each section of your bedroom, you are given a chance to test out all of the game’s controls. In essence, this opening segment of the game is really a tutorial.
Once Teddy is happy with all of your toys, he asks you to take him someplace dark. Naturally, you crawl over to the nearest closet and sneak inside. Teddy suggests that you hug him, and in doing so, you can equip yourself with a light. You continue to explore the now cavernous closet until you exit the other side – and your mother, with a sweet voice, puts you in your crib and sings you to sleep. Teddy rests peacefully by your side, and all appear well. Until you wake up, that is. At an undisclosed time during the night, you awaken to find Teddy missing and odd noises arising from outside your room. Once you tip your crib and rescue Teddy from the terrifying washing machine, your tale truly begins.
The remainder of the game is split into two segments: an exploration of the house, and an exploration of the ‘horror’ world. Once you’ve rescued Teddy from the washer, he decides that the two of you should find your mother. Creeping your way through your house really puts the game in to perspective. How strange the walls now seem from so near the ground. I can count how many times a pair of boots, casually sitting beneath a dress or a coat, startled me because they appeared to be a body. From a child’s perspective, a dark house becomes a horrifying experience. Yet the child still trudges on to find its mother. When you finally reach her bed and find her missing, the game truly takes off.
Among the Sleep is a short game. From the moment your mother is found to be missing, you fall into a ‘horror’ world. In this world, you must find four mementos in order to return to your house. Each memento is linked to a memory you have with your mother that begins to shed light on your situation. Teddy guides and protects you during each ‘stage’, as it were, and offers advice on any puzzles with which you may become stuck. The whole game – including the prologue and epilogue – probably takes a maximum of three hours (not including the 100% trophy list).
My biggest complaint with this short game is that I ran into numerous glitches early and often. The second time I popped in the disc, I found that if I crawled, I sunk beneath the floor. When I crawled in the house, I apparently became omniscient, able to view the area beneath me. Other technical issues involved me being unable to hold onto items I grabbed or an inability to climb objects. These issues didn’t harass me once I made it into the ‘horror’ world, and they didn’t plague the end of the game, either. Really, after the second time I put in the disc, I didn’t come across any of these issues; unfortunately, they were there and must be documented.
I have one other major gripe about Among the Sleep that almost ruined the experience for me. During the end of the third area (of the four mementos), you become hunted by a giant wraith-like creature. If the wraith finds you, it’s game over – just like being caught by Slenderman. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining who the wraith is (outside of a moving picture that shows a woman being transformed into the wraith by drinking from a well). On top of this, she isn’t particularly scary or creepy; sure, I was startled when she grabbed me (as it came out of nowhere). But she isn’t a well-crafted entity.
In fact, most of the game is pretty ugly, though it’s apparent that the focus of the game isn’t on aesthetics. What the game does present works well (outside of our wraith friend), so I can’t really complain about the fairly ugly visuals. Sound, too, was forgettable; I’m often saddened, as I am now, when I have trouble remembering the sound from a game I just completed. The acting is subpar, with Teddy being the highlight of the game. Controls were surprisingly effective, and I only ever came across a few areas where the controls became a burden (these areas were in the opening segment of the house, so I was still becoming familiar with the control schema).
Where Among the Sleep really shines, however, is in its narrative. With very little actual dialogue or ‘written’ exposition, Among the Sleep crafts an emotional, surprising tale. As the horror world becomes understandable, so too does the entire game. In fact, as I neared the game’s finale, I knew what the outcome would be, and I enjoyed the moment where I understood what the game was trying to do. Without spoiling the game too much, I will say that this is, perhaps, one of the only ways a game from the perspective of a child could function.
In conclusion, Among the Sleep is a very short experience that thrives on its ability to craft an interesting narrative while not needing to burden the scenario with words. Like a piece of art, Among the Sleep should be examined and thought about. Unfortunately, technical errors and control issues can get in the way of fully enjoying the piece. If you can navigate through the intermittent errors, you may find something to like, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. At a $19.99 price tag, I feel the game is a bit expensive for its lack of content, but I am happy to have a disc copy of an indie game, and I did enjoy the story.