*Note- Some of this review is stemmed from a review previously published with another site when Among the Sleep released on PC. The review has been redone for the PS4 version.*
As a fan of horror games, the premise of ‘Among the Sleep’ is a unique one. You play as a child who is celebrating his second birthday. Later in the night he and his new teddy bear, Teddy, find themselves in a world that would give Lewis Carroll nightmares, desperately trying to find his mother as you guide him through a range of supernatural areas.
‘Among the Sleep’ is a Kickstarter project, funded by the Norwegian Film Institute, with Krillbrite Studios raising enough money throughout 2013 to develop for the PC, PS4, and Oculus Rift. The version available as of this date is for PC, with no actual date for PS4 as of yet. The Oculus Rift development was funded by the goal overage of the Kickstarter campaign…and to be honest, the game should have gotten another coat over the character animations at the very least.
Preparation for this review has been trying to say the least. There are so many aspects to this game that makes it a triumph in terms of its narrative, but it falters too much on the technical side. At its best, though, the game does give you the want to continue playing in spite of its flaws.
Developing a game from the perspective of a two-year-old is a bold move for a young studio, but the risk did pay off for the type of story it tells. From the beginning we are treated to a mother celebrating her son’s birthday, only to be distracted by a knock at the door. Nervously, she answers it, but the screen becomes distorted and the only other noise besides the distortion is muffled arguing. Receiving a gift in the form of a rather creepy sometimes yet cute teddy bear, they wake up in the middle of the night with the realization that the mother has disappeared, and they follow the trail to another world filled with dread and a Babadook like being looking for them.
Regardless of how you feel about that gameplay, the story line sucks you in immediately and you will want to see it through to the end, which comes at you slowly and then runs over your emotions like a train. There is a lot of depth to this game towards the end. It will probably affect parents or products of unfortunate circumstances in regards to their own parents. While most may be able predict certain facets of the tale, very few will see the ending coming. There are many themes that emerge by the end of the game, and as much as we would love to talk about it, but I need to keep this as spoiler free as possible.
For a title that has been touted as a horror game, it’s not really at all. Sure, there is creepy ambiance, but the game never really gives us the creepy factor that most assume that it would; think more like the game ‘Gone Home’, rather than a typical horror game until the last half when the entity rears its head.
Also, there is no real consequence to the game either. With a game involving a child, no one should expect blood and dismemberment, but the three times we had to click the continue icon, it was due to falling into water or off the side of some object high up. The other ‘continue’ moment was when the real surprise when the dark entity spots you and runs at you (while the distortion occurs), picks you up and begins to yell with their glowing mouths. These occurrences are few and far between. At the beginning of the game, Teddy tells you to be quiet as possible, but there is no real consequence if you run into something, but in case you think there will be…just hug Teddy and he will light up the area so you won’t be too frightened.
The puzzles within each area are too juvenile and holds no real challenge to the player whatsoever, and the game runs at about 3-4 hours of play. If you are a horror fan who just loves solving riddles in the middle of the game, like ‘Silent Hill’, or earlier ‘Resident Evil’ titles, then this game will not satisfy you. The fact that they spent so little time on….
That’s the point. What child would be able to solve normal game puzzles? The fact that they are easy is because you play as a two-year old. This is what makes the game great in its storytelling; the fact that you have to play a toddler. For the most part, all you will be doing is dragging around objects to get to hard to reach places since you only two years old in the game.
Just to get this out of the way; this game is not groundbreaking in its visuals or character design. In fact, most of the technical aspects are where the game fails.
Character design for this game should have been better. In this age of new games, the audience will expect some kind of consistency, but the character animation on the mother and Teddy are not good. The mother’s animations and facial expressions come off as plastic and devoid of emotion… but maybe that was the point.
To shift to the positive, the world and the set pieces were great. I was lost in all the different types of Tim Burton-esque locations, and it kept a dream-like atmosphere when it needed to, but the developers could turn it into something nightmarish on the drop of a dime.
When I played the game on the PC, it was full of bugs towards the end on the game. At first it was just characters running through objects, but then at the end I ran into areas not loading until I walked into them. Objects that needed to be manipulated in order to progress though the story line were not lined up with where they needed to be, so the character could not interact properly. It got so bad, that we almost didn’t finish the game. After about an hour, we came back needing to know what happens at the end of the story.
Luckily, the PS4 version fixed the majority of these issues and the second play through was a much better experience.
Then there’s sound, there is not much to say as far as soundtrack. There are some musical cues and a music box track that tends to repeat itself. The ambiance is good and some of the sounds coming out of the rear speakers made it scarier sometimes, but most of the time its more for cheap scares.
Then there’s the ambiance in the game, which for the most part is pretty good, but when the noises coming from the child are creepier than what is going on around him in the world, then there may be an issue. Also, sounds sometimes came about when it seemed like they were in the wrong place, with no real reason for them to happen. I was expecting a creature to come out and chase me, but nine out of ten times, it was nothing.
This is a stellar piece of storytelling for the short amount of time it takes to play, and it’s not a game you will soon forget. In a period where we all look for sequels, this year has been promising for original games thus far, and ‘Among the Sleep’ is no different. Whilst not terrifying, anyone who loves a good story with creepy ambiance will have a good time with it. The real problems are technical ones, but in spite of that, Krillbrite has produced a solid game and I hope they will produce more. Based on other reviews the original issues may have been unique to my PC, but the PS4 port made the game so much more enjoyable this time around. Playing it twice is recommended to appreciate the things you will probably miss the first time around.
On a side note, Among the Sleep has one of the best narratives in games. When you get down to it and complete the campaign, it is one of the few games that shows domestic issues in households and repressed memories in 3-4 hours. While the character designs and animations could have been better, it can be forgotten about when it all culminates in the end.