Among The Sleep Review
Childlike imagination is generally considered a happy, wondrous thing. Krillbite's first-person horror game turns this expectation on its head, tossing players into the psyche of a child coping with a turbulent family life. Among the Sleep packs fewer scares and puzzles than I traditionally enjoy in horror games, but its surprising storytelling helps it succeed despite these shortcomings.
Players experience everything from the vertically challenged perspective of a toddler on its second birthday. The quiet celebration between the child and mother is interrupted by a loud knock at the door followed by the muffled sound of adults arguing. The mother returns with a present and no additional company, subtly suggesting a custody battle is being waged for the young protagonist. This sets the tone for the story to come, which spirals down an Alice in Wonderland-esque rabbit hole.
Childlike wonder mixes with the traumatizing effects of abusive family environments to achieve potent results. I consistently considered the real-life effects of irresponsible parenting on children - something few games touch on - and it made my time with the game even more impactful.
The story unfolds as players explore the deep recesses of a child's imagination. Interacting with the world and solving the simple puzzles is reminiscent of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but without the blood and guts. You pull chairs up to doors and climb them to reach the handle. You can open creaky doors and drawers as slowly or quickly as your bravery permits. Players can waddle about on their feet, but running too long causes them to stumble and crawl before getting back up. It's a clever concept, but doesn't impact gameplay in any purposeful way.
Among the Sleep is also playable on Oculus Rift kits, if you've got one
Basic puzzles like collecting toy trinkets or slotting shape toys into shaped holes are fitting for the theme, but don't scratch true problem-solving itches. However, the experience is less about what you're doing and the context surrounding it. Throwing a ball at a liquor bottle on a shelf doesn't feel meaningful, until darkness begins to spread and ominous noises build.
Among the Sleep is a powerful, emotionally moving experience, but it takes a while to get there. Momentum drops off after a strong opening, leaving players to wander around corrupted playgrounds and foggy forests. While these early sequences are heavy on creepy atmosphere, they're light in terms of actual threats. I began to brazenly charge after monsters lurking in the dark, unconvinced they would ever actually harm me. However, my doubt was eventually extinguished during a tense-yet-brief encounter with a menacing creature. Don't go into this game expecting to be endlessly stalked by invincible foes. Krillbite relies on monster evasion far less than other horror games, a trade that swaps thrilling gameplay for elegant storytelling.
True scares are disappointingly infrequent, but Among the Sleep helps make up for it with a gripping tale that picks up in the second act. Krillbite expertly communicates the rough upbringing this child has had. Few words are spoken, and text appears as gibberish (given the protagonist's inability to read). Nevertheless, numerous crude crayon drawings, repeated themes like broken bottles and claustrophobic spaces, and a general ominous vibe deliver the story in a memorable way. The final moments and the dramatic twist before the end made the whole ride worth it.
Krillbite's horror game is an impressive feat in video game storytelling. It leaves more of an impact in a distilled 3 to 4 hours than some games with 60-hour campaigns. The scares may be lacking and some of the puzzles are dull to a fault, but this studio has expertly crafted a game that lets players unravel its story in a meaningful way.