Very rarely do you get the opportunity to control an infant in a video game. And not just one that handles like an adult, but an actual infant. Perhaps that’s where Among the Sleep truly succeeds. This survival horror title from Krillbite Games casts you as a 2 year old child in a warped, dreamlike reality where you are tasked with discovering what happened to your mother after she mysteriously disappears.
Among the Sleep‘s opening minutes are strange. You’re introduced to the basic mechanics amid your mother’s strangely insincere voice acting. After an odd moment where your mother leaves to answer the doorbell, she returns holding a present she “found”. Upon being returned to your room, it’s revealed that the present was a teddy bear that christens himself, “Teddy”. After a short interlude, you’re put to bed and woken up almost immediately after with Teddy gone and your crib overturned. This rude awakening sets the plot in motion as you recover Teddy and seek out your missing mother.
Gameplay within Among the Sleep is much like Amnesia: The Dark Descent (if you were roughly four feet shorter). Doors are opened and closed by “grabbing” onto them with the mouse cursor, and objects are carried (and rotated) directly in front of you. Instead of your lantern, you have Teddy. Teddy acts as the game’s comfort blanket, providing hints on where to go and acting as a (literal) beacon of light in times of need. Other than that, the game is mostly trekking from point A to point B, avoiding monsters and solving simple puzzles.
Of course, “simple trekking” this is not. Your character handles as you’d expect a toddler to handle: clumsily. That’s not against Among the Sleep, either. It successfully makes you really feel like you’re unable to effectively walk or run. In fact, crawling is what you’re encouraged to do, as it’s faster than walking, and you won’t trip like you can while running. The solutions to puzzles are often simply making areas accessible to your pint-sized self. It’s all very immersive.
Another place Among the Sleep excels within is its level design. While some geometry is oddly placed (and can unintentionally inhibit your movement), the way the game uses lighting and bloom effects makes environments look haunting, like a garish Silent Hill locale. Places like playgrounds, libraries, and parks become nightmarish landscapes that have an almost dreamlike quality to them. Places that would look normal in any other world seem warped and menacing, as you’d expect a child to perceive them as. Among the Sleep may very well take the reward for “most threatening swing set in gaming”.
Among the Sleep is not without faults, however. It falls into the common curse that befalls horror games: getting caught. In Outlast and Amnesia, it’s the chase that scares, not the catching. Being caught when evading the many monsters of Among the Sleep grows tiresome and makes subsequent encounters less intense than they should be. That’s not to mention its rather ham-fisted ending that the game’s opening and crayon drawings allude to. There’s a good game behind all this, but it’s the presentation, not the game, that you should be playing it for.