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Among the Sleep (PC) artwork

Among the Sleep (PC) review

"From cradle to.. playing with creepy sentient teddies with crazy devil eyes that peer into your soul...."

Vulnerability is a long forgotten element in what made video gaming horror such a powerful thing. I know I bring Silent Hill up as a benchmark every time Iím asked to write about any game that attempts to scare you, but, even decades later, it remains the most potent example of interactive horror done right. Protagonist, Harry Mason, was a scared father walking through nightmares in order to try and find his missing daughter, and the monsters that lurched out of the fog had huge advantage over him. He wasnít equipped to fight back; if he found a weapon, he either swung in panic-filled arcs, or he fired guns with a shaky unpractised hand. When he found danger, the better option was always to run away, hide, and hope the threat would pass. Itís no small coincidence that when later games started using army medics and violent prisoners who were more than capable of fighting back that the games, for the most part, stopped being scary.

Among The Sleep has gone to great lengths not to forget this. It casts you into the role of a toddler, turns out the lights, and asks you to explore the shadows.

Vulnerability is effortlessly achieved when the character you control can barely walk on its own. Wobbling along on uncertain feet leads your first person view to bobble from side to side as you advance. Keep it up for too long, and youíll fall onto your hands and knees where youíll crawl instead at a much brisker pace. Tilt your view enough to see yourself, and you glance tiny grasping hands, and a body clad in a dark blue onesie with a star and moon print. Pause the game, and the static options menu is brought up only after the infant has covered their eyes with their little hands. Itís occasionally adorable. Itís always, always nerve-racking. Thereís something out there in the dark -- how are you supposed to fend it off?

Among The Sleep asks you to hide from monsters, but itís heavily centred around exploration. In such, youíre forced to view everyday locations from a brand new perspective that can be effortlessly terrifying. Shut doors force you to find something to climb open to reach the handles; all while something might well be bearing down at you. Nudging a stool roughly the same size as you into place isnít supposed to be easy so, consequently, it isnít. Itís easy to panic, to jab at the keyboard furiously just trying to find a pocket of safety because you feel so much more responsible for the safety of a baby than you would any of the fully armed marines that make up the majority of todayís horror efforts. Getting cornered elsewhere means a few rounds of ammo, or a few swings of a club. Being cornered in Among The Sleep means you either hide or you face game over.

I should be clear; in no way does the game showcase the babyís death at any point which most would agree would be overstepping the delicate line that has been established. Failing to avoid the monsters eventually leads to the toddler waking up at the last checkpoint and left free to get back to exploration. A lot of the game is based around the threat of the monster rather than the desperate game of cat and mouse youíre forced to play once it arrives. You initially explore nothing more sinister than your own house, innocent by day with the brightly decorated and well lit nursery but suddenly foreboding when robbed of light and casting long shadows. As you delve further and further into the surreal, youíre forced to acknowledge the unreliability of the narrator: you are playing as an infant at the apex of his imagination. Is your sentient teddy bear companion really walking around, or is he an imaginary friend conjured from the infantís mind for a sense of security? The broken playground could be a perverted memory, but the infrequent sobs that seem to emanate from the tall grass and the underground tunnels draped in black are hard to ignore. The danger is always very real. Every single aspect expressly exists to keep you on edge.

A playhouse looks innocent enough from a distance, but exists on floating lumps of land connected by planks of wood. That you reach by sliding down an impossibly long copper tube. That you find in the back of a closest, in a hole that shouldnít exists, shrouded in bright white. Once youíre there, once you take those first few tentative steps out of your house and into the unknown, thereís no going back. A run down shack on the edge of some woodland seems safe enough, until you discover massive soggy footprints and spot something large and gloomy patrolling the area. Among The Sleep largely consist of enclosed areas you have to perform some task in while avoiding the attention of these monsters: finding a key and unlocking a gate, moving from knocked over barrels to hollowed out logs to keep out of sight. Being spotted by a monster leads to unfortunate Slender-like static impairment, which is unfortunately starting to veer into overused and obligatory, and doesnít really work here. But knowing youíre in danger and crawling towards safety remains wonderfully effective.

Among The Sleep lasts around three hours, which is plenty of time for it to complete its tale without overstaying its welcome, and it exists in a pocket of absolute uniqueness. It doesnít reinvent the genre, but rather remembers a time before everything shifted towards action games with macabre targets and paints you as a victim, not a saviour. It throws you into a world you canít understand, a world you canít take on as an equal. Then it twists your perspective and reminds you that youíve no way to fight back. The world towers above you, things move in the gloom, and your only option is to hide and hope nothing finds you.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (June 12, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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If you enjoyed this Among the Sleep review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Never3ndr posted June 17, 2014:

I saw a streamer playing this and got interested...your review made me even more so.
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EmP posted June 19, 2014:

It's an interesting game. It's not going to be for everyone and if the vunrability angle doesn't get its hooks in early, I can see why someone wouldn't enjoy it -- but I liked it!

Thanks for reading.

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