The brain of an infant matures in spurts. Their ability to form cohesive memories gradually progresses, but doesn’t fully develop for at least 24 months. We often wonder what goes on in their minds. Do they perceive things in our world differently than we do? Krillbite Studio’s very first project, Among the Sleep, embraces this unknown and let’s players see the world through the imaginative eyes of an infant.
Among the Sleep follows a two year old child and his journey to make sense of the chaotic world around him. The game opens in a vibrantly lit kitchen with your loving mother preparing a cake for your second birthday. You can hear the love in her voice as she speaks to you. There is a knock at the door and your mother abruptly leaves the kitchen. From the hall outside you hear arguing between your mother and another man. Your screen fills with static and darkness begins to drown out their words. The fighting ceases and so does the darkness. Your mother returns with a beautifully wrapped present. She then wisks you upstairs to play with your new toy, Teddy; a small brown stuffed bear with curious eyes. Your mother eventually returns and tucks you into bed for the night, but the darkness soon returns and you find yourself in the borderlands between the dream-world and reality. The bright home we were first introduced to is replaced by a disheveled, nightmarish shell and you soon realize your mother is missing. You and Teddy, your talking teddy bear friend, must face the terrors hidden within the house and find your mother. Sometimes we create our own monsters.
When the gameplay was first revealed for Among the Sleep I was immediately attracted to the concept. In the world of horror, our protagonists are typically alcoholic males in their mid-30’s or painfully ignorant teenage girls, but this title takes your typical stereotypes and throws them out the window, putting players in the teeny onesy of a fragile baby. You are completely helpless against the dangers of the enormous world around you and unlike other characters from horror games, your legs haven’t fully developed, so even running away in fear isn’t a viable option.
You can quickly toggle between crawling and standing by simply pressing “ctrl.” Crawling is your fastest means of transportation, but inhibits your ability to traverse the various obstacles in your environment. Standing allows you to interact with objects and climb structures. This is all accompanied by a well-crafted physics engine that gives you the ability to move items about your surroundings. Often times I had to open chests or drawers on dressers to climb to the next platform in order to grasp door handles out of my reach. Watching my tiny hands and fingers stretch for these gigantic knobs reminded me how fragile I truly was.
Many games rely on cheap jump-scares to drive the horror home, but Among the Sleep takes a more subtle approach. One part horror, one part adventure, this captivating title eases you into the nightmare and leaves you with a constant feeling of stress and anxiety. The world isn’t filled with terrifying monsters, but you are seemingly haunted by one particularly frightening creature. You feel its presence far before you see it and like all great works of horror, it only appears once you’ve started to feel comfortable with your surroundings. There are various “safe” points sprinkled throughout the game, but “safe” isn’t really a word I’d use to describe how I felt.
Fantastic level design and captivating environments accompany well crafted physics-based puzzles to create a powerful experience that remains fresh throughout. Some 3D models and textures look a bit dated, but it’s something that can easily be overlooked. From the moment I started playing, I was hooked. I don’t think I took my eyes of the screen. Granted, my first playthrough barely cleared the two hour mark, so many would consider this an extremely short game, but it’s one that allows you to be carried away to a different world and that’s a rare occurrence these days.
Krillbite Studio’s ability to capture the essence of a young child’s frail physique and wild imagination makes Among the Sleep a passionately immersive experience. The attention to detail when it comes to the subtleties of moving as an infant were truly remarkable. When standing, the camera is quite wobbly, demonstrating the developing muscles in the child’s neck and while running, this effect is amplified. Our diaper-clad hero even stumbles and flops on his belly if you run for more than a few seconds, instantly swapping to the default crawling controls. When things are looking bleak, you can hold tighly onto Teddy and he will light your path. Your tiny arms clench him tightly and you wouldn’t let go for anything. His light illuminates the darkness, but I never felt safe and more importantly, I always felt small.
Among the Sleep may not have the same polish that bigger AAA titles offer, but it delivers an honest, fresh take on what many consider a dying genre. Clever puzzles, well-executed scares, and vivid imagery blend seamlessly together to deliver an experience not quite like anything you’ve played before. The industry needs games like this to remind developers of all the untouched possibilities waiting to tackled by the right team.
Recommended for fans of: Survival-Horror, Outlast, Gone Home, and Emotional Adventure Games
This review is based off the PC version of the game. Among the Sleep will be making it’s way to the PS4 in the near future with Morpheus support.
Miles Dompier is the chief editor and founder of What’s Your Tag?. He is a Seattle native who recently moved to the sweltering heat of Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a composer/voice actor. When he’s not up writing until his eyes bleed, he likes to play a Prince level of instruments and listen to terrible death metal. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter and be sure to join our gaming community; TEAM XBRO.