When I was a small child, my mom would occasionally turn the dishwasher on to run overnight. Although I would eventually come to rejoice at the sound it made as that of respite from having to scrub dishes, to my much younger self, the noise that carried into my room sounded disquietingly like shuffling footsteps. Having convinced myself that my bedroom and closet were relatively monster-free, I would steel myself to very carefully creep through the hallways, peering around corners until I had finally verified that the sounds were indeed innocuous, and only then could I return to the carefree slumber of the innocent.
Playing Among the Sleep, I couldn’t help but recall that particular episode as I shuffled around the house in my uncoordinated infant’s body, trying to convince myself that the ominous noise I was hearing was just the refrigerator and not a monster lurking in the shadows. The successfully Kickstarted debut offering from Krillbite Studio does a fantastic job of capturing that primal fear of the boogeyman hiding under the bed, even if the lack of compelling gameplay causes the game to come up a bit short in the end.
Among the Sleep’s rather novel premise eschews the traditional adventure protagonist archetypes by putting you in the booties of a two-year-old child. The game appropriately opens in a fit of domestic bliss as your mother force-feeds you birthday cake while making patronizing vehicular noises, but a knock on the door and a tumultuous off-screen exchange soon clues you in that life may not quite be all sunshine and rainbows in suburbia. Domestic tranquility having been thoroughly dispensed with, mom dumps you in your room and you’re given your first chance to stretch your stubby legs.
The first official goal is to escape from your poorly-engineered playpen, which takes all of five seconds, and track down your birthday gift. This turns out to be a stuffed bear which is not only rather creepy-looking, but has apparently come to life and proceeds to order you around. Despite my natural misgivings, I reluctantly complied with Teddy’s dictates as he walked me through the game’s childish [insert rimshot] mechanics.
The game is played from the first-person perspective and controls like a traditional free-roaming, FPS-style affair, although, being a two-year-old, you have the option of walking or crawling to move around. Walking feels appropriately clumsy, as you don’t actually walk so much as slowly waddle. Crawling is much quicker than walking, and while there’s also an option to run, it doesn’t feel quite as fast or reliable as crawling when you need to make tracks. More importantly, though, each has its trade-offs, which become apparent later in the game. In an especially nice touch, as opposed to being a disembodied spirit possessing a pair of floating hands as in most shooters, you actually have a physical body here, and looking down will give you a proper view of your toddler-self shuffling around in your blue pajamas.
You interact with the world via an Amnesia-style interface, where you see a hand cursor pop up whenever you come across an interactive object and use the mouse to mimic physical interactions such as picking up items or opening a door. There’s no shortage of objects to interact with, and although most of it comes to no avail, such games convey a much better sense of immersion when the environment is as interactive as possible. I spent my first few minutes wandering around my room futilely trying to spell out obscene words with my letter blocks, bowling with my toy bowling ball and pins, and playing with my model train set.
With playtime (i.e. tutorial) ended, mom shows up to put you to bed, which is essentially when the game proper begins. Shortly after the lights go out, ominous sounds invade your room and your crib is inexplicably tossed over. Naturally, I assumed the demonic stuffed bear had come to kill me, but fortunately he instead acts as your Virgil of sorts, guiding you through your increasingly bewildering journey and offering the occasional bit of surrogate inner monologue a two-year-old isn’t quite capable of. Teddy literally offers the little lone comfort you’re afforded, as hugging him illuminates your immediate surroundings and acts as your flashlight/lantern equivalent throughout the game.
At this point, the game shifts into full boogeyman mode, as you wander a dark and suddenly uninviting house, instinctively in search of your mother. This first level perfectly encapsulates what makes Among the Sleep a singularly inspired experience, in that the developers were able to reach into my inner two-year-old’s imagination and almost immaculately reproduce my demon dishwasher memory. Both the graphic and the sound design merge in such a way as to create a set of otherwise prosaic environments that have been effectively filtered through the senses of a frightened child.Continued on the next page...