Release Date: May 29, 2014Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4Developer: Krillbite StudioPublisher: Krillbite StudioGenre: Survival Horror
In my personal experience, there’s nothing more frightening than when the two-year-old in a horror movie or video game starts making cryptic drawings or saying ominous things about death or dead people. Kids are just naturally terrifying and spooky, right? Well Krillbite Studio decided to expand on this traditional horror concept by allowing us to actually play as the innocent toddler in Among the Sleep. But while the first-person explorative horror game is great on the atmosphere, does playing as a two-year-old have one too many limitations from a gameplay perspective?
Among the Sleep starts out simply enough, with players assuming the role of a nameless and silent toddler protagonist on his second birthday. After your affectionate mother puts you to bed, it isn’t long before the game’s surrealist elements start to emerge, as your creepy new teddy bear Teddy starts talking and walking around, and serves as your guide through a warped and twisted journey through your own memories. While Teddy offers some sparse commentary along the way, his primary purpose in the game is to provide a fleeting light source when hugged to help you navigate the darker corners of the world.
The story was actually my favorite part about Among the Sleep. While it doesn’t seem like much at first, the surprising and rewarding ending sheds some crucial details that will cast the world around you in an entirely different light, and gives a new sense of depth to the protagonist’s journey through these fragmented memories. It might even warrant a second playthrough of the incredibly brief game, to experience this world with a newfound sense of enlightenment.
For what it’s worth, the game’s atmosphere does do its job of putting you in the shoes (or footsy pajamas) of a two-year-old toddler. Everything seems abnormally taller around you, and there’s a certain sense of wonder in exploring familiar locations like a bedroom or a kitchen and seeing where you can actually go with your limited skills: pulling out drawers and using them as footholds to climb up a dresser is a key component to progressing through the game.
Even the surrealist locations are mesmerizing to look at, from dark playgrounds and forests, to a dilapidated playhouse with peeling paint on the walls. And the best part is that it all makes sense coming from the perspective of a toddler. I especially liked the fact that you move faster when crawling, as opposed to when walking upright. While this mechanic is realistic and serves to add to the story’s believability, it also allows you to crawl under tables to hide from the sinister things that are lurking in the shadows.
But while the presentation is great, there’s a reason why the two-year-old is never the main character in your favorite horror flick or game: there’s not all that many interesting things that a toddler can do. As a result, the gameplay in Among the Sleep really suffers, if you could even call it gameplay. Aside from moving objects and climbing on them to access new areas, the majority of the gameplay involves collecting a handful of items and occasionally avoiding a monster that roams a given room, much like a Slender game.
Among the Sleep can be completed in well under two hours, and there really isn’t anything else to see or do in the game outside of the primary and very linear main pathway. The only time I ever needed to restart a section was when the game glitched on me, jamming up a platform I had to cross in order to continue. Other bugs in the game are just more disrupting, like one which casts the background visuals in a bright and demonic shade of red. But glitches aside, the game and its limited puzzles are still so easy that a two-year-old could do it. Oh wait a minute…
In the end, Among the Sleep is a brief but interesting experience of playing a horror game from a completely different perspective. While not particularly fulfilling in a gameplay sense, there’s still something that’s worth exploring here in the poignant and minimalist story, as well as the surrealist and often captivating worlds as they appear in the eyes and the mind of a child.+STORY+GRAPHICS-GAMEPLAY-SOUND-REPLAYABILITY