Among the Sleep has been sitting in my Steam library waiting for a good time since the spring, and what better than a rainy autumn evening to pick up a game that promises to be quite creepy. The idea of playing a toddler in a survival horror game appealed to me right away, and the trailers of the game were promisingly disturbing. Among the Sleep isn’t by no means the first game where the protagonist is a toddler age child, but it goes for a little bit more realistic approach than many – the tyke can crawl faster than they can walk, there’s no platformer style jumping or witty dialogue (apart from snuffles and cooing) and so on. Apart from being able to fall from considerable heights with surprising grace, the character really does feel like a toddler, not a short agile adult.
Right from the bat the game has a tone of vague malice, even though it starts from a happy birthday party. There’s cake, there’s gifts and there’s mom having a muffled argument with someone at the door, which is kind of scary. After the cake it’s the time to go to the kid’s room, a place of sunlight and bright colors, to open the present. Whoa, a teddybear, and it talks and walks when mommy is not there! There is a dark closet, but no worries – if you hug the teddy really tight, it makes you feel better (and as a game mechanic gives some light to the surroundings). Then it’s bedtime – and waking up at night to a dark and scary house, with no teddy in the cot and mommy nowhere to be seen.
It’s hard to talk about the game without spoilers, but I’ll try to keep it vague. The first chapter of the game was so creepy that I had to have a little pause after playing it, and come to the lit parts of my apartment to hug the girlfriend and the cats. In the next chapter the game lost me a bit: “whoopty-do, another item hunt in a surreal landscape”, I thought. The creepiness dissipated a bit, since even though scary things happened, nothing seemed to come from them, and there was no sense of risk. Just when I was thinking what a shame it was that the potential of the game was wasted, things changed a bit, and I got it. The story delivered a nice little sucker punch to the gut, partly for reasons of personal background, but mostly because it was just a skilful way to tell a story and to make a strong point.
In the end Among the Sleep was a powerful experience. The idea was a bit better than the execution, but only ever so slightly. Gameplay-wise I kept wishing for more real stealth and hiding, and story-wise a bit less exposition in the climax of the story. The ending, though, that was picture perfect. Among the Sleep is a great example of why I love the current indie scene – AAA-games keep you entertained, but by tackling difficult issues games like Among the Sleep make you feel and think.