Going into Among the Sleep, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I was not even aware the game existed until I was searching for the release date for Little Nightmares 2. Though my search was in vain, I was recommended several horror games, the most intriguing being Among the Sleep, which I held onto for many months in anticipation of recording the game for our Virtual Bastion YouTube channel (shameless advertising is shameless, I know…but the playlist can be found here). I had heard good things about the game, but ultimately, I had no idea what to expect aside from one simple detail. The game is played entirely from the perspective of a two-year old.
Like Inmost, which I reviewed quite recently, I was pleasantly surprised by this game’s great sense of atmosphere, scary moments that didn’t rely on jump scares or gore, and the symbolism that is done in such a way that you’ll have no trouble understanding the meaning behind the game by the time you reach the end. In fact, I had a lot of fun speculating throughout my playthrough and was quite pleased to have more or less guessed what was going on. As I went back through my recorded episodes for editing, I even uncovered more details that I had previously overlooked!
The game is a first-person puzzle game, and it begins innocently enough with the main character’s second birthday. He gets some cake, receives Teddy the teddy bear (I know, creative naming choice there), who becomes a constant companion throughout the game, and is put to bed. This is when everything starts to become a bit…odd, when the child comes tumbling out of his crib that’s inexplicably been tipped over and has to navigate his house in the dark in an effort to locate his mother. It’s once you realize that she is not in bed that the game becomes a lot stranger, as you end up in a surreal world where a playhouse in the middle of a void of darkness serves as a hub. At this point, you have been given your goal. Locate all four memories and find your missing mother.
After that initial memory that you obtain after you’ve finished exploring the house, you visit other foreboding locations such as a dark playground and my personal favorite, a creepy house in the swamp. The scares in this game start out slow, but the atmosphere is always creepy, and you constantly dread what might be around the next corner. The game doesn’t get really startling until the final two memories, and at first, I had been hoping for more scares earlier on. But now that I’ve completed the game, I like the build-up that this game manages to achieve. The scary stuff could have easily gotten old by the end of the game if it had been overused, but by saving it until the second half, it was that much more intense. And as I mentioned earlier, even beforehand, the game does have some good unsettling moments. One standout moment for me was in the playground when you obtain one of the owls you’re supposed to collect in a shed, and the door locks shut behind you as if some unseen entity slammed it shut the moment you went inside. You’re only stuck in there for a few moments, but it was a good scare, nonetheless.
The gameplay is quite good, as well. You will be solving puzzles to proceed and can interact with nearly everything in your environment by holding one of the right shoulder buttons over it and moving it with the control stick. Sometimes you’ll be picking up items or turning a crank or simply moving a chair in order to reach a high doorknob. This game certainly required some thought from time to time, but I never really had trouble figuring out what to do, save for one moment early on when I was still learning the controls. You can also swap between crawling, which is faster, and walking. (I totally forgot you could sprint until I finished the game.) You can also hug Teddy, which provides you with light, a very useful function provided how dark the game can be.
Video by YouTube User: Virtual Bastion
I’ll admit that I didn’t expect to like Among the Sleep nearly as much as I did. (Kind of silly I paid for it when I had that attitude, but alas.) But it turns out that, like Inmost, it’s actually a really good and unique horror game. I absolutely love spooky games that don’t require gore to scare the player. The game was just so darn atmospheric, and the monsters you encounter later on are used just enough to be scary without overstaying their welcome. The game only took a couple hours to beat, but I managed to get it on sale for $9.99 (I think the price is usually closer to $16.99). Despite the short length, I’d say it was worth it.
This post was originally published on The Duck of Indeed on October 30, 2020.