Despite some problems, Among the Sleep is a game worth playing and an experience worth having.
How does a child perceive reality? Do children fear the same monsters adults do? Do they know what a conventional monster looks like or is that a concept they develop as they grow up? Those are the same questions first-person horror game Among the Sleep tries to answer, since the game puts you in the shoes of a two-year old toddler. Ultimately, this survival horror game suffers from multiple problems, but fortunately, they don’t affect its unique premise and haunting story.
The story begins during your second birthday after you receive Teddy, a talking teddy bear that aids you on your quest. But as soon as your mother puts you to sleep, some bizarre events start taking place. Suddenly, your colorful room becomes dark and dingy, your welcoming home is replaced by some threatening environments and those comforting four walls are now an oppressive cage. Seeing how your surroundings change is both both fantastic and terrifying.
The way in which you interact with everything around you is simple and it’s great to know that the game always respects its own premise. Since you’re always playing as a defenseless child, the only things you can do are crawl, run for a short period, pull or push objects, climb and open doors. As in most modern horror games, these limitations work in Among the Sleep’s favor, since they contribute to the sense of helplessness a two-year old must feel, since he’s woefully unprepared for the world around him. Additionally, Among the Sleep continues the trend of horror games that lack any sort of combat. So the only defense you have against enemies is running and hiding and while this might not seem like the most graceful and satisfying way of dealing with the enemies that hide inside your dreams, that doesn’t make the tactic any less effective.
But the fact that there’s no combat and that you’re vulnerable to the monster that’s roaming around, makes Among the Sleep an effective horror experience. As I mentioned above, you assume the role of a toddler and this is reflected in the gameplay, so moving around takes effort, climbing a tree stump represents a feat in and of itself and when the baby tries to run, he needs to stop now and then to catch his breath. And when you have the “boogeyman” breathing down your neck, the experience becomes both gripping and terrifying. As a horror game, Among the Sleep works remarkably well. Visually, it looks terrific and every single aspect contributes to the unique sense of immersion, including the powerful soundtrack, voice acting, mechanics and so on.
Unfortunately, the controls are a little finicky and imprecise which definitely hurts the experience. Sometimes the controls behave in a capricious way, especially when you’re trying to manipulate objects to solve some of the physics-based puzzles. Furthermore, the game relies heavily on its mechanics, so you’ll find yourself doing the same things over and over which makes the action rote, mechanic and repetitive. The core action is simple enough: you explore your surroundings to find items, since they are necessary to solve some light puzzles. Sometimes you need to throw balls at a bottle to break it and grab whatever it’s inside them, sometimes you need to find keys to open closed doors and so on.
But poor controls and repetitive mechanics aren’t Among the Sleep’s only problems. Finishing the game should take you between two to three hours and there aren’t many reasons to play it a second time. Additionally, all the tension the game builds suddenly collapses when you find out that this is a linear experience, so once you’ve located a puzzle piece and escaped from an enemy, you don’t need to explore at all. Finally, when the monster catches up to you, it’s game over and you’re sent to the last checkpoint, so you’ll need to replay that entire section again. Usually, this would be a tedious experience, but the game mitigates this by completely removing the creature which makes that section remarkably easy. To be fair, maybe the monster reappears if you spend some time in the same place, but since I’ve never stayed long enough to actually corroborate this, I don’t know if that’s the case.
But despite the problems, I think Among the Sleep’s story is remarkable, especially the unconventional way in which it’s told. Granted, the story won’t make sense until its final moments, but I urge you to stay until the end to see the game’s unsettling, heart-wrenching conclusion.
Among the Sleep is a creative and unconventional first-person horror game that’s marred by some problems and inconsistencies. But if you’re willing to overlook its short length, finicky controls, repetitive mechanics and simplistic puzzles, you’ll see that Among the Sleep is a game worth playing and an experience worth having.