Upon playing, I had low expectations for Among the Sleep and to be frank, that is where your hopes should remain. Although a mildly interesting two hour adventure, you will be left thinking: what the heck just happened?
Among the Sleep takes off on your second birthday. As your mother feeds you cake, there is a pounding at the door. She walks away, has a disgruntled exchange with the mysterious visitor, closes the door and returns with a gift box. Having to handle some adult business, she places you in your bedroom filled with all sorts of toys and your brand new gift: an old, stitched up teddy bear and surprise! He’s alive.
Shortly after meeting your new plushy friend, you awaken in the middle of the night to find that your mother is missing and you and your trustful teddy must get her back. Traveling through four different playable levels, you weave in and out of what seems to be a dream world — or better yet, nightmare world.
To be clear, this isn’t a “baby version” of a nightmare filled with spilled milk and talking Cheerios; but rather a creepy adult-tier nightmare mixed with childish tones. Who isn’t afraid of that right? *cries internally*
Most of the game is played by slowing walking, crawling, and climbing through small areas to find keys and items. There no real puzzles aside from the task of finding these mementos to continue. You are capable of picking up mostly everything around you by pushing, pulling and throwing. This makes Among the Sleep a rather simple game to play.
Although small in scale and not overly expansive, each level is still very unique, creepy, and intriguing to the eye. The use of lighting is very effective in setting an eerie undertone to each environment and the sound effects are just as disturbing. As I crawled over a bridge that stretched over a swamp, I heard a quick “knock knock” behind me as though someone was trailing me. Not only was I afraid in general but I thought, who scares a baby?
To be clear, Among the Sleep is not a visually perfect game. Most character designs look strange; with bulging eyes, perturbing foreheads, and flat, motionless hair. Thankfully, the only real human character model is the baby’s mother, who you only see for a small percentage of the game.
Aside from the visual and audible cues, Among the Sleep holds a unique tone — the present innocence of the baby and their teddy bear. By holding down F, the baby will hold the teddy out in front of him as he glows vibrantly, and acts as a baby shield. This reminded me of one of my all-time favorite films, A.I Artificial Intelligence.
Horror perceived through the eyes of a child is not only off-putting, but very sad. Although the style of play was mildly enjoyable, I wish that the developer would have made better use of this narrative tool. The game’s only offering of a real plot is described in poorly sketched child’s drawings thrown around the environments which are almost impossible to understand. Aside from those, all of the storytelling is what you perceive it to be and doesn’t make much sense. Only after watching an ‘Among the Sleep Explained’ video was I able to really grasp the depth of the story, which was not at all what I thought it was.
Although Among the Sleep is less than $15 on Steam (and even cheaper on Humblebundle.com), I would suggest avoiding this game unless you feel like championing a game or simply completing something. Otherwise, you can wait for it to be less than $10 and pay as much as you would a movie ticket (although a movie ticket may be more valuable).
This review was based on a digital copy of Among the Sleep for the PC paid for out of pocket.