Among the Sleep is a creepy, novel experience with kind of boring gameplay
Among the Sleep is a survival horror first-person…uhm…crawler which puts you in a nightmarish Alice in Wonderland world. The hook is that you play as a two-year-old who finds himself alone in his house with only his (creepily animated) talking teddy bear for guidance [EDITOR’S NOTE: I swear, if that bear doesn’t scare the pants of you when it starts walking around, you must not be wearing pants]. Being two is a cool idea but it comes with obvious limitations in gameplay that the title can’t quite overcome. As a novel piece of psychological horror, it is remarkable; as a game, it may leave experienced players a bit fussy.
Gameplay is straightforward. As a toddler, you can quickly crawl and slowly walk (well, stagger). Puzzles in the game are mostly about item collection, button pressing, and eventually monster-avoiding. Among the Sleep really excels at creating a spooky atmosphere. For a game in which you aren’t in immediate danger much of the time, we spent quite a lot of time on the edge of our seat. When monsters do show up, they’re of the Slenderman variety (get too close and your vision becomes squiggly).
We really liked how the designers translated what would be terrifying to a two-year-old (isolation, being picked up by a stranger) into gameplay and the challenges are appropriate to this world too (there’s a particularly memorable section where you have to creep past stacks of bottles to avoid alerting monsters to your presence). The environments are often twisted versions of the toddler’s world (e.g., playgrounds and nurseries). The game never cheats its premise, either; don’t expect to develop magical powers or find a sword at any point. This strength is also a bit of a weakness as puzzles can generally be solved pretty quickly (once you figure out how to open drawers, you’ve got most of them figured out).
The game is relatively short (about four hours) but this works in the game’s favor. The experience is concise and unnerving, never repetitive and boring. We could see playing through it again if we ever clear through our backlog. We say kudos for any game that can create such a strong sense of horror without blood, guns, or zombies. However, if this kind of gameplay is not your thing (and creepy psychological horror is not what you’re looking for), then Among the Sleep won’t win you over.
So now at the end of our Among the Sleep review, let's break down our score...
For our money, a game like this is more replayable the shorter it is. We liked this adventure and could see sitting down to play through again. Otherwise, as with any puzzle game, replayability is somewhat limited once you solved these fairly straightforward puzzles.
While we loved the story and plot, gameplay itself is a bit limited. You get the feeling that the programmers may have realized about six months into developing this title that a baby protagonist – while extremely innovative – is profoundly limited. Crawl, climb, crawl, climb, occasionally throw … that’s about it. Thus the game winds up being more of a novel psychological experience than fun to play.
The graphics are the games strong suit, particularly the audio. The game creates a strong sense of isolation and foreboding (and tosses in some jump scares to boot). The graphics are impressively spooky and the overall atmosphere you get here is top notch.
Is it a must-play? Probably not, but we liked this title and we love innovative games that do not rely on guns and ammo for excitement. If you're looking for an innovative, interesting experience and don't mind some basic puzzles, then we'd say go for it (especially if you see it at $10).