Among The Sleep
Some of the most terrifying scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece, The Shining, involve young Danny exploring the huge Overlook Hotel. Roaming the stretching corridors and creeping through haunted hotel rooms from his diminutive point-of-view provides a unique sense of innocence and helplessness. The Shining popped into my head several times when playing a preview of Krillbite’s Among the Sleep, an indie horror game that places players in the role of a two-year-old child. Given The Shining’s legacy, the association is a high compliment. I survived my first night with the game, and came away with new excitement for the project.
Among the Sleep begins with your mother wooing you to sleep with a soft lullaby. By the time her gentle, slightly haunting melody ends, you’re fast asleep. Not after long you awake to see an invisible force pulling away your teddy bear. Then the door opens and the lights go out. Something tips over the crib and spills you onto the floor. Freed from you confines, you’re now able to explore the big dark house on the hunt for you parents.
At this point in development, Among the Sleep reminds me of other non-combat, first-person horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast. As previously mentioned, the main difference comes with playing a character one-third the average size. Controlling the toddler feels appropriately clumsy. Your default mode of transportation is crawling, which offers a decent degree of control and speed. You can also stand on your wobbly little legs to walk, reach higher platforms, or even sprint for a few steps. Automatically falling after an awkward sprint is the kind of attention to detail I appreciate. It feels like you’re playing as a defenseless kid, which adds a new degree of dread.
Exploring the environment so close to the carpet makes the already ominous house even more intimidating. I pass stacks of moving boxes marked “Fragile” after crawling out of the bedroom, indicating this poor family is either on their way in or out of this dwelling. In the hallway, I hear cries for help from the laundry room. The washing machine is struggling with an off-balance load, which also seems to be the source of the desperate pleas. The door to the appliance is locked, but after looking around I see its power cord plugged into a nearby outlet. You interact with objects by clicking and dragging the mouse, which in this case means removing the cord. The machine stops and I rescue the teddy bear from its damp innards. The toy can apparently speak, and also has a built-in light that can be used to faintly illuminate the environment.
Developer Krillbite has a done a great job creating an environment that gels with the young protagonist. In any other game, a living room’s couch or coffee table would just be decoration. In Among The Sleep, you can sneak under these objects for security. I only saw a brief glimpse of a dark, silhouetted creature during the preview, so I didn’t get to test out any of these hiding spots. I predict these knuckle-dragging apparitions will stalk you at some point, forcing you to take shelter.
When you’re not soaking in the moody atmosphere, you’ll be tackling more mundane tasks similar to unplugging the washing machine. However, performing these simple tasks from the perspective of a child adds a unique flavor. Some situations require you to pull a chair up to a door in order to reach a handle. Sometimes you have to create a staircase by opening chest drawers. These basic actions become intense when you hear the door handle start to jiggle behind you.
I’m excited about what I saw in the demo, but I don’t want to spoil all the scares here. What I will say is that the game does not take place entirely within the confines of your family home. I traveled to an odd, ethereal otherworld where a rickety walkway lead to the outside of another house. The demo ended shortly after I visited this odd dimension, but we’ll know more when Among the Sleep releases. Krillbite wants to put it out this year, which appears to be dependent on getting the game’s Kickstarter campaign. If the crowd-funding goal is not met, we may have to wait a bit longer.
Krillbite recently announced Among the Sleep will work with the Oculus Rift. Learn more about the 3D head-tracking device here.