Yet another game I have been eagerly awaiting for some time has finally dropped on us. When I first heard of Among the Sleep, it was due to seeing it Steam’s Greenlight games, and listening to the studio making the game talk about it got my attention. However, it was upon seeing clips of the game in action that I figured this was going to be a winner. After all, who could make a game that could make something as simple as the family kitchen creepy as fuck? Someone who mastered lighting and made plates suddenly fall like something took a swipe to grab you and didn’t give a shit what was in the way, that’s who, and from that moment, I knew this game had potential.
Fast forward to a week ago when the game launched. Wanting to see if it still held that promise, I resisted the urge to watch a let’s play of the whole thing, but instead found one of the “alpha” build that was (and might still be) offered for free on the site’s kickstarter page. And man, this game even in an early build had the promise of scaring the FUCK out of the player. I bought it then and there.
So as soon as I finished with Wolfenstein, I loaded this one up and started playing. On the one hand, the game did NOT disappoint. It was every bit as disturbing as it promised. But on the other, it also did little else. It didn’t tell a story that had very much to it. It didn’t make me figure out anything at all. It didn’t even make me have to realize how to deal with the monster chasing me down the entire time. It made for a dipolar experience, that perhaps we should talk about. Step inside.
Story: Happy Birthday! You just turned 2 years old! You had cake, you played with your toys, you were doted over by your mother, and you even got a brand new teddy bear. And just like any baby who just got their first bear, it quickly became your best friend! But not everything is quite right, for while eating that delicious cake, Mommy had to go for a moment, and you could hear her arguing in the hallway with someone.
Still, the day was overall a great one, and you went to sleep peacefully with Teddy in your arm. But then night came, and things changed. While you slept, Teddy was taken from you, and your crib was knocked over, waking you rather violently. It didn’t take long before you found Teddy in the washing machine, screaming for help, and on rescuing him, you both decide you need to find Mommy. Something isn’t right, and something, it turns out, is here stalking you.
From this point, the game will lead you through the house and possibly your own yard, except it isn’t. It is these places warped as only a nightmarish trip through a child’s imagination can make it in your desperate search for Mommy. The search is driven both by the puzzles you encounter and Teddy as he points out details you need to focus on or just drives home the point saying things like how Mommy must be so worried. But at the end of the day, this is literally the entire story of the game. This night has gone horribly wrong, and Mommy needs to be found to make it right. There is only one twist in the entire game, but the way the game opens, you should have a clue about what it’s going to be from the beginning.
Among the Sleep is a Unity based game with a very stylized look, as it seem to take inspiration from a mix of Pixar and Tim Burton movies. The result is actually quite appealing if a reflection of budget the game was made on. (The game was funded by Kickstarter for a total of just under $250K.) With well detailed rooms that just ooze pure creepy atmosphere from the moment the game truly begins, you know you are on an adventure that will reach out in masterful ways to disturb you. Even before your rude awakening, it hints at just how much love and care went into turning common household (or outdoor) locations into nightmarish versions of themselves with a trip through your own closet feeling like literally everything there is going to reach out and grab you. Simply put not since the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent, have I seen such craftsmanship in the world itself to carry a vibe of danger and mental disturbance throughout just about the entire experience.
However, that is not to say this game did everything right. Far from, in fact. There are many places in this game that demonstrate that while the team knew exactly how to pull off the atmosphere they wanted, they either were in a rush to get the game finished and out the door, and/or they just didn’t fully get how to push those final details when working with the engine. Things like if you pick up something while crawling, you can still see both hands on the floor. Or when teddy has to open a door by reaching for a button in a hole, he just sort of clips his arm through the wall next to the hole. Or even at the beginning of the game when he is taken away, he clips through your blanket as he is dragged off by an unseen force. Nothing in these moments are going to break the game, but they have the potential to break the immersion for a moment, which is a shame, as that is exactly what this game does best.
Sound: Just like with the graphics, everything in the audio department was designed to bring the feel of this game to life. You will constantly be watching over your shoulder whenever you hear a new click, clatter, or footsteps, fully aware you are not alone, and that’s before you ever see the things following you! You will even hear it talking with distorted voices, leaving you always on your toes for when you expect it to come and try to take you away. And without any real musical score to speak of (outside of a rather creepy lullaby hummed by Mommy when she puts you to bed or when you find a memory of her, anyway), the game’s atmosphere is pure and raw.
Gameplay: Sadly when a game’s weakest point is the actual gameplay, that is an issue that needs to be addressed, and the case is very clear here. Among the Sleep is a survival horror game in which you play the roll of a 2 year old baby who was just woken up by their crib being knocked over by an unknown entity and trying to find Mommy to make it all better.
From this perspective, you will waddle and crawl around a much bigger world then you are used to, colored by the imagination of a scared child in the night. Atmosphere-wise, this game does an amazing job, but gameplay-wise, it runs very threadbare. You will spend most of the game travelling through a very linear adventure where most of your puzzles will be things like pulling out a drawer so you can climb on it and reach a doorknob you have to turn or hiding in a place you know the monster won’t look on the few times it isn’t just implied by the environment but actually there. There is nothing in the game that really challenges you to think about it.
And yes, that is a real issue in this game. You are being chased down by one monster in the entire time, and most of the times it shows up, it does so as shadow lighted from a doorway for a second or you hear it stomping around, or even behind the slits in a closet door you couldn’t open in time to get into trouble if you tried. Most of your encounters, while memorable and unnerving, are actually harmless. In the 6 levels that make the game up (for the playhouse is more of a hub then a level itself), I found myself actually having to hide to keep from losing in two or three tops.
In addition to these limitations, the game is exceptionally short. Your entire adventure can be finished in a single afternoon, taking maybe 3 hours and there is absolutely no reason to play this game a second time. There is very little meat on the bones of this adventure.
Bugs: While playing this game, I can not say my experience was bug free. However, I can tell you your experience may well vary as over the 2 days I played, I saw the game get a patched update twice. Needless to say, the devs are very busy wiping out any issues this game has.
- Clipping environment: This issue happened a bit more then I would like to admit, but there it is. Usually if it happened, it was with small touches like being able to stand where I shouldn’t so my head would clip through the room of a tunnel a little, or while climbing on a window, I would see for a brief second through the sill to the raw geometry of the window below it. Once, however, I cought a glimps of the monster THROUGH rock I was hiding behind. This issue is probably going to be the biggest in the game.
- The shelf didn’t move: This is a very specific bug, and as I write this, it was patched in the latest version of the game. Due to my source I got the game from, I didn’t see the patch till I was done, so I simply reloaded my save to fix the issue, but in the second to last chapter of the game, there are two shelves which are supposed to thrust continually. The idea is they are blocked from forming a bridge for you until you do something to let them fly forward to their full length. However, for me, the second one simply didn’t move. Without this moving the game is actually unwinnable as you need to cross the bridge it becomes to finish the level. Thankfully when I reloaded, it worked properly, and just as thankfully this bug was specifically fixed in the current version of the game now (1.1.0). But since I hit it, I should report it.
Overall: Among the Sleep is a very odd game to talk about, doesn’t offer a lot of gameplay. Sure it has puzzles, but they are exceptionally easy and you can probably count them on your fingers. And aside from that all you really do is go forward and occasionally hide from the monster hunting you once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, it’s exceptionally creepy and as such it is an experience to have, but it just doesn’t offer much on the interactive side gaming.
Add to this the exceptionally short gametime and I’m not sure I can recommend the game at it’s full $20 price. If you are a fan of horror games, you will enjoy it, as it is one of the best games I’ve played at messing with the player in a long time, but even you would be better off waiting till it’s at least on sale for a few bucks off. Everyone else is probably best to just stay clear.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- Dual core processor running at 2.4 Ghz or more
- 2GB RAM
- DX 9 video card with 512MB RAM
- Windows XP/Vista/7/8
- AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia Geforece 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM
- and Windows 7