The world’s a scary place when you’re just two years old.
Strange shadows, unfamiliar sights and unrecognisable noises can all be so easily misinterpreted when you’ve not got the cognitive skills or life experience to make sense of them all. With that in mind, it is surprising that no-one has ever decided to make a game that explores this juvenile fear of the unknown, but Krillbite Studio want to change all that with their unique little horror game, Among the Sleep.
Originally released for PC back in 2014 and now making its way to consoles, Among the Sleep is a first-person adventure with a difference; you play through the eyes of a two year old child. It’s an interesting premise – simple actions such as opening a door become a great challenge when you’re only knee high, and viewing the world through a toddler’s eyes can make even the most normal of things seem alien – but ultimately, the experience falls flat in one major area for a horror game: it’s just not scary.
Beginning with some rather low-key birthday celebrations on account of you reaching the grand old age of two, it doesn’t take more than a heated exchange at the front door between your mum and an unseen stranger to work out that something doesn’t seem quite right in the household. Returning with a mysterious present, your mum decides that you should go upstairs to open it, but after being distracted by a phone call she places you in a play pen with the gift out of reach. With you in control, obviously you’re not going to let some wooden bars stand between you and an exciting new toy, and so you escape your colourful prison to hastily discover your new best friend: a walking and talking teddy bear. In the way that only a two year old child could, you quickly accept your new animated little pal, and after going on a little adventure in your closet your mum returns to put you to bed for some much-needed rest. It isn’t long however, until you’re stirred by some unseen force taking your new teddy away, and when your cot is mysteriously toppled over you head out to investigate its disappearance and locate your mum, who also seems to have gone astray.
For a game that has very little narrative (as a two year old child you’re not going to be doing much talking now, are you?) it’s surprising that Among the Sleep’s story is the driving force of the game that makes it all worthwhile. By the time you’ve finished its three hour campaign full of minor exploration, lackadaisical puzzles and ineffectual scares, you won’t mind that it isn’t particularly well fleshed out or scary, you’ll just be left reeling by its rather sombre and surprising ending. It’s the kind of game that meanders along, doing nothing particularly of note to make the gameplay anything more than average, whilst also never becoming tiresome or annoying to play. Upon reaching its hauntingly effective conclusion however, it’ll all be worth it, and I daresay you may even go back for more – especially if you’re into collecting trophies or achievements.
Playing as a child of two, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s no combat in Among the Sleep, although there are numerous hostile entities. It also shouldn’t be much of a surprise that our infantile protagonist isn’t that great on their feet. The game controls like a typical first person adventure game, utilising the left and right analogue sticks to move and aim, with a flourish of speed available by holding the left shoulder button. The toddler’s burst of speed isn’t sustainable for long however, as running for too long will see them stumbling to the ground. Like most children, our protagonist is actually probably happier on the ground than when stood up, and the game actively encourages you to crawl if you want to travel around at speed, and boy, does this kid crawl fast. When you need to gain some height you can climb onto objects that are about chest height, although you’ll often need to create platforms by pulling out drawers or moving chairs to get where you need to go.
A unique aspect to Among the Sleep’s control system is the “hug bear” button, which, unsurprisingly, makes the child hug his new little friend for dear life. Aside from being sickeningly cute, hugging the bear has the benefit of producing light, which enables you to traverse some of the darker areas of the map without a cause for concern. Unfortunately, hugging your bear also makes you walk at a snail’s pace, which means if you do encounter an eerie entity, usually signified by the screen becoming distorted, you’ve got to release him pronto and quickly run away or hide. If you do get caught by a supernatural force however, it isn’t the end of the world, you’ll simply start back at your last checkpoint after witnessing a ghoulish cutscene.
Graphically, Among the Sleep isn’t much of a looker, but the visuals get the job done nonetheless. Textures are often quite muddy, characters and objects look quite angular, and there’s some instances of random stuttering that can take you out of the experience, but otherwise it runs very smooth and has a rather unique visual style. Luckily, the audio fares better, with a surprisingly eerie soundtrack throughout and some decent voice acting by the few characters that actually speak.
Although light in content and devoid of any real scares, Among the Sleep is a curious little game with a great deal of charm. If you go into it expecting cutting edge graphics and P.T. levels of atmosphere then you’ll be woefully disappointed, but enter with an open mind and you’ll find a surprisingly refreshing experience with a genuinely impactful story. Sometimes a game doesn’t have to have riveting gameplay to make it worthwhile, it just has to have a good payoff, and Krillbite Studio’s Among the Sleep is a fine example of one of those games. If you’re after something a little out of the ordinary to play on your PlayStation 4, then its definitely worth considering giving it a go.