Can you remember what you were like when you were two years old? No? I’ve heard rumours that I was a brat of a child, who ate bin bags, was sick on the dog and could cry for 10 hours straight. Well now you can play a game as a two year old child and relive those lost years. Well if those lost years are as psychologically disturbing as this game is, then I’m glad I can’t remember.
Among the Sleep is a first person horror adventure game that puts you in the pj’s of a two year old child. You start the game eating your lunch and throwing your drink on the floor before the doorbell rings. Your mum gets a present for you from a mysterious someone, who she doesn’t like and then you get taken to your room for a sleep. The present and the box it came in starts to move…and inside is a talking teddy bear. Now the game begins as the bedroom turns strange and the world the young brain thought it knew, changes into something broken and terrifying.
The movement in Among the Sleep is nice and simple – you can walk and you can sprint. But if you run for too long you fall over with a yelp; you’re two remember and those legs haven’t been properly worn in yet. The best thing to do is crawl as it’s faster, quieter and can get you into all sorts of places. You can climb onto objects to get higher, or to open door handles. Also you can pick objects up, throw them or use them to further your adventure. The teddy bear is your best friend and guide in this world, and if you get scared with your heartbeat increasing, you can press a button for a hug and everything is alright again…for a short while. There are a load of brilliant little touches to this game and one of my favourites is when you press the pause button – the baby puts his hands up to his eyes and the menu screen comes up.
Story wise the game is about you and your teddy friend trying to get back to the normal world and not be captured by something very scary. You have to collect four memory tokens, and these represent happy memories of the time with your mother. The game takes you to desolate playgrounds, upside down houses and strange gardens hovering in space. There are hints of something not quite as straightforward as it seems, and through exploration and paintings you get clues as to what is really happening. In the end, Among the Sleep deals with some mature themes about childhood and being a parent, all of which are refreshing to see. The main theme of this game are the scares though and it does these well, even though I have played more frightening experiences on the Xbox.
The gameplay works well, but there is a tendency to get stuck sometimes behind objects or in a wall. I had to restart a checkpoint a couple of times, because I was stuck in a tree trunk. There were times as well when the game bugged out, so when I went into a crawl I saw the rest of the world below me. Exploration is key though, and noticing little details on the way, especially if you complete the end game knowing the truth, before replaying again with that knowledge. The creature following you is a cross between the Slender man and the bride of Frankenstein. It is very creepy and your actual heartbeat does rise when she gets close to you and gets even faster when those long arms reach out and grab you.
The graphical quality doesn’t stand out as a new generation game, but is still very good. It reminds me of a Bioshock type, with its cartoony styling and character design. The level designs are creative with creepy touches, paintings coming to life and a great use of lighting. The sound quality is top notch, with some nice babyish noises coming from you, the main character. The teddy bear is voiced with a mature American voice and really seems to work well; much like the teddy in the film, ‘A.I.’. The mum is played like an over the top Disney character which initially jars, but makes sense with the final payoff. The effects themselves are superbly handled giving the game a sense of dread and horror throughout. The oppressive score as well really adds to the atmosphere with its effective use in and amongst the most dramatic moments.
The main problem I have with Among the Sleep though is that it just isn’t a long enough experience. The game will take you around two hours to complete and in that time it feels like you’re only starting to begin to feel what the game is about and what’s it trying to achieve. Among the Sleep wants you to care about and invest in the characters, but you are not given enough time to be truly involved. Even the great ending feels a beat too soon.
But overall I found my short time with Among the Sleep a positive one, full of innovation and brilliant touches. I think this new developer is one to look out for in the future and I will be the first one to play their next game. It was enjoyable being two again, even if I was scared to death.