I understand the comfort that comes from having a bear.
I still have my childhood bear. I'm very attached to him. He's old, his head is falling off and his nose is smooth. He smells like an accumulation of years — musty yet warm, something that fills me up and comforts me.
Among The Sleep is a Kickstarter funded first-person psychological horror game by Norwegian developer Krillbite Studio, and you play as a two year-old child whose bear becomes his comfort and his guide as he searches for memories of his Mom.
The game opens with a scene in the kitchen. It's the little boy's birthday, and cake is certainly on the cards — and walls, if Mom isn't prepared. Kids will touch anything they can get their tiny little hands on. Mom, depending on how you look at it, had the good grace to leave the cake on the table while she goes to open the door. I would have thrown it on the floor to get into the mindset of being a child! Cake - floor! Blocks - Mom's head! Naptime? Neverrrrr!
After a brief argument with someone who may be your dad, we begin to start weaving together a bit of background information about family life. For all intents and purposes, it seems as though Mom and baby (you) live alone. Returning with a gift from Dad (?) who has been given the heave-ho, she takes you to your room and sets the box down and leaves.
With standard movement and camera controls on each thumb stick, being a small child we can utilize walking and crawling to fit into smaller areas. At first, it's all happy and playful, going through the brightly colored pop-up tunnel, to climb onto a toy box using the A button to throw ourselves over the playpen gate.
It's the little things in games like this that can make them stand out. I really liked the raspy childish breathing when climbing onto things; small details make for a more immersive and believable experience.
Picking up items with RB (they will go into your inventory if they're key items), you can move the stick to open or close containers; LB will throw the item you are holding. B toggles between crawling and walking. The inventory (which I'm going to presume is a diaper because, seriously, I've put at least four owl statues and a couple of keys down there, and we're not running out of room anytime soon) is accessed with Y, but you'll have to select the items with RB which gets confusing. Since you don't use your inventory too often, you don't get a chance to really get used to it. That's a good thing, though, because it amps up the pressure during tense scenarios.
It's actually faster to crawl than it is to walk. You can run for short times, but as children have a tendency to do, you'll eventually trip. The problem with mainly crawling is that your field of vision is much closer to the floor. Not only does it make for less interesting viewing, but standing allows you to see much more of the room and your surroundings.
After inspecting the box we discover your gift is a teddy. Teddy is the guide, and holding him with X settles your fears and he also emits a gentle light to help see in dark places. Unfortunately for the young one, there's going to be plenty of darkness to come. There is some comedy to be found in the teddy, though, if your mind lives in the gutter like mine does.
When Mom doesn't return, you go looking for her, seeking out memories in the hopes of bringing her back. Teddy, being the sweet harbinger of doom, tells you that things aren't alright. Way to calm some nerves there, Ted. You need to find out what's going on.
Mother is the name for God...
On the lips and hearts of all children
While Amongst The Sleep is pretty standard in its mechanics, with the usual jump scares and great atmospheric build-up, the real scary part is how you're woven into a game where all your biases are turned on their heads.
Traversing through vents and corridors in the house, you're also given some visual brain teasers which I thought was an interesting break from clutching Teddy in the darkness. Many corridors have various sized doors in them, some have nothing. Others have secrets. One room I found, however, was behind a door that I had to crawl through. Perhaps the house is actually built with TARDIS material because the room behind this tiny door was much larger but contained one single wooden chair. Questions!
Why is there a chair in there? How did it fit? Was it assembled in this cupboard? Who would have fit through the door to assemble it inside, if I'm a two-year-old baby and I had to crawl to get in? Was it a Hobbit? Maybe Dr. Who left it in there when he built the crazy room.
This is just one example, though. Right after Mom leaves you're free to wander into the most underwhelming Narnia, past coats and old shirts into other coats and old shirts. Once you reach the end, there is no snowy crunch underfoot, no ice Queen who wants to turn you into a statue, and no Jesus-lions. Just a derelict house, corridors, and rooms.
As we investigate this weird 'dreamland', where everything is distorted, while looking for these memories of Mom, we find clues that hint at discord. Alcohol bottles are a frequent find during our travels. We catch glimpses of some kind of tree-man who later becomes an aggressor who will seek us out while we cower in a barrel. Knocking over booby-traps in a hallway will cause a tall figure to chase you, with glowing eyes and a coat most sixteen-year-old Goths would (figuratively) die for.
Other times you can hear distorted speech — something that really gives me the creeps. It sounds like an argument but you can't tell what they're saying or who is saying it.
Finding the memories gives us a better understanding of the home life. The father is gone, and there is a dispute over the child, as evidenced by a flashback where Mom shouts that she won't give him up.
We just assume since Mom and the baby are home alone, they're alone because Dad likes his Special Medicine and is a raging alcoholic. Throughout the levels, there are pictures to be found, sometimes depicting a happy nuclear family. Others are more disturbing, showing a small person cowering and crying as a tall scrawl of a figure towers over them menacingly.
Once the memories are collected, we return to Mom and discover the truth. Which makes the gift from the baby's Dad and its purpose all the sadder.
Experiencing life through the eyes of a toddler should be a once-in-a-lifetime event for anyone. To see it again through the eyes of a toddler with an overactive imagination is both a blessing and a curse.
Among The Sleep is your run of the mill psychological horror with a unique perspective and a thought provoking story. A relatively short experience at 4-5 hours long, this crowd-funded game is actually something to be admired, both graphically and intellectually (if you read between the lines).
- Minute sound details make a more immersive experience
- Genuinely shocking story
- Engaging gameplay
- Variety of different places to explore
- Never too sure if there is actually a threat to hide from during tense moments
- A good middling balance for the camera between crawling and walking would help a lot
Disclaimer: This review was performed on an Xbox One with a code provided by the developer.