Among the Sleep (PS4) Review

Among the Sleep (PS4) Review

Being a child, especially a young child, is a constant shift of emotion devoid of analytical thought. Without the knowledge gained from years of life experience, many objects and situations lack the embedded associations and descriptions that come with being an adult. Something as simple as a dark kitchen, a playground, or a forest becomes a Lewis Carroll-esque twisted and deformed version of the original, however simple it might be. This concept applies not only to the physical world, but human interaction and nuanced social situations as well. Seen through the eyes of a toddler, what looks normal and explainable to an adult morphs into something far more terrifying.

Among the Sleep takes this interesting idea and runs with it, allowing you, a grown-up with a rational mind, to experience a common domestic issue in an equally common environment from the perspective of a young child with a wild and developing imagination.

among the sleep insert1You begin the game at the kitchen table, bathed in warm sunlight and bright, friendly colours, as your doting mother surprises you with a gift. After she takes you up to your room for a nap, the game begins a simple tutorial as you learn the mechanics…what little there are. Unlike other games in the puzzle/horror genres, your abilities in Among the Sleep are rather simple. You can crawl quickly, or stand up and walk slowly, and manipulate objects. That’s it. Obviously, as the protagonist is so young, there isn’t anything in the way of combat, crafting or dexterous platforming to master. In a longer game this would eventually become tedious, or even frustrating, but thanks to the short and sweet playtime (around three hours) these simple mechanics work just as they need to without becoming annoying.

As you traverse these twisted doppelganger versions of everyday environments, there are some simple puzzles to solve that mostly involve moving objects around to make steps, empty boxes, and slide keys into slots to allow your physically inept character to progress through the levels. There are no Riven style puzzles that will leave you pulling your hair out and screaming in confusion, but what the game does challenge you with fits well thematically with the idea of being so young. Despite the nightmarish landscapes, there is a certain level of realism that goes along with keeping things simple enough that you can believe a toddler would be able to accomplish these feats.

The environments are gorgeous, and run from the initial cozy, softly lit bedroom where you immediately feel safe and ready for a nap, to a dark and foreboding house and bizarre and twisted imitations of a playground and forest. Thanks to the limited perspective of being only two-and-a-half feet tall, every piece of furniture or playground equipment becomes a towering and intimidating feature, often sparsely lit by eerie colours interspersed with wells of shadow. Among the Sleep doesn’t try for huge, sprawling environments crawling with creatures and crazy weather effects, but manages quite well to capture how strange and scary the world can be to a fresh and innocent mind.

Story wise, well, that’s for you to figure out. The game isn’t very long, and explaining any plot points in detail would kill the fun. The game lets the story expand at a decent pace that keeps things flowing well, with little reveals here and there that allow you to easily piece together just what the hell is going on. It’s important to remember that when you get to the end, and finally understand what the game has been going for, what is revealed isn’t some crazy supernatural mystery, but a situation that many families struggle with all over the world. It’s not a grand story, but it is told in a way that will make you think twice the next time you get into an argument with another adult in front a child.

among the sleep insert3Among the Sleep is a fun way to kill a couple of hours, and while it isn’t the deepest, most engaging puzzle game on the planet, playing from the perspective of a innocence-filled child is an innovative and interesting approach. Combine that with some gorgeous visuals and surprisingly tense moments and you’ve got a fairly solid little package. Definitely worth checking out if you like this kind of thing, but not for everyone.

Games That Explore Our Childhood Fears

Games That Explore Our Childhood Fears

I love October. I love the weather, the colours on the trees, and, most of all, Hallowe’en. To celebrate this most spooky of holidays I’ll be discussing topics related to horror each week of the month in a series of articles called . . . OCTERROR!


This article discusses key plot points from both
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Among the Sleep. Please don’t read on if you’re wary of spoilers for either game.

It’s easy to forget just how scary everyday things can be from a child’s perspective. When we’re young and don’t yet have the tools to make much sense of our worries and fears, the world can appear to be a truly terrifying place. The kind of unpleasantness that most of us are able to brush off as adults—being yelled at by a family member or watching a loved one change under the pressure of stress—take on greater dimensions for kids. It grows to monstrous proportions, intermingling with a naïve, magically infused view of the world to turn into something unthinkably horrible. This mixture of innocence and trauma snowballs into an overwhelming sort of fear that is almost impossible for adults to remember experiencing. It’s no wonder that videogames seeking to recreate these memories are so often tinged with horror.

In The Astronauts’ The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a detective investigates a series of murders apparently spurred on by paranormal forces. In the course of exploring the mountain village where these crimes have taken place, he encounters surreal visions that ultimately reveal themselves to be the product of Ethan Carter’s—a frightened child who feels out of place within his family—active imagination. In one instance the detective chases an astronaut through the woods and ascends to Earth’s atmosphere in a spaceship. Once the daydream finishes he finds a science fiction magazine that Ethan has been reading. This magazine serves as fodder for his imagination to create an exaggerated version of his desire to escape his dreary family life. In a more frightening example of the same idea, the story sees Ethan’s verbally abusive uncle depicted as someone who’s plotting to murder the boy and hide his body in a crypt as part of a sinister sacrificial ritual. Ethan’s love of pulp horror stories mixes with his unease around an overbearing family member to turn an insensitive uncle into an occult-minded killer. While Ethan Carter isn’t always the scariest (or most well-executed) game around, its portrayal of the potency of childhood terror is an uniquely effective take on both the horror genre and coming-of-age stories in general.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Krillbite Studios’ Among the Sleep is an even more intensely focused take on this concept. In it, players assume the role of a two-year-old boy who awakens in the middle of the night and sets out across his darkened house hoping to find his mother. Accompanied by a talking teddy bear, the boy finds the ordinary dimensions of his home turned surreally threatening. Raincoats become looming monsters; closets become confusing mazes. By the end of the story, the player discovers that the toddler protagonist’s fears revolve around the erratic behaviour of his single mother, someone who’s struggling with an alcohol problem, a difficult divorce, and the stresses of raising a child on her own. Rather than provide this information outright, Krillbite filters the narrative through the imagination of a two-year-old, making the kind of emotional trauma that an adult can accept at face value take on grotesque and horrific proportions. The anger and drinking that makes the boy’s mother frightening mixes with the fairy tale book he’s familiar with to turn her into a horrendous witch; his father’s lack of involvement in the boy’s life means that the man becomes an enormous, shadow-faced stranger when viewed from a child’s perspective.  Of course, a two-year-old can’t understand why his mother—someone who is ordinarily a source of love and comfort—can become so frightening out of nowhere, so in his head she becomes an outsized, overtly menacing monster.

Both Among the Sleep and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter attempt to visualize the manner by which children break down emotional trauma in their attempts to make sense of it. The decision by both studios to explore this idea through horror makes a lot of sense when we try to remember just what it was like to deal with these kinds of issues as kids. Our youth is characterized primarily by naivety and unfettered imagination. When good things happen to a child—a birthday party or holiday celebration—they seem incredibly wonderful for this reason. (Can a birthday ever be better than it was when we were four or five?) When the opposite happens—when the world becomes a confusing, hostile place—the results can be overwhelmingly terrifying. By exploring the former viewpoint, Among the Sleep and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter offer two of the most unique takes on horror in recent memory.

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Among the Sleep (PC) Review

Among the Sleep (PC) Review

Most of us think back to early childhood as a good time. We remember how excited we could be for birthdays and holidays; how simple things like a sunny day in the park or an hour spent swimming could make us happy at a level that seems pretty much impossible now. But it isn’t so often that we think about how immense our fears were during this time, too. We don’t remember how ominous our bedroom closets could appear in the dark or just how incredibly frightening displays of anger and violence seemed.  Among the Sleep is a horror game built on these less positive childhood memories.

The game stars a two-year-old boy who the player controls from a first-person perspective. After awakening in the middle of a stormy night, the toddler climbs out from his crib and heads through the house in search of his mother. Armed only with a talking teddy bear, the player must venture into an increasingly labyrinthine home, where everyday objects take on disturbing qualities from the scared child’s point of view. A jacket hanging from a front room’s coat hook casts a murderous shadow. Moving boxes and shelves form treacherous mountains.

Developer Krillbite Studio does an exceptional job of recreating this dreamlike viewpoint not just in matters of scale, but emotion as well. Good things—like a kiss from a loving parent or the companionship of a beloved teddy bear—are rendered in a reassuring light. Bad things—like the sound of a glass bottle crashing to the floor and the pitch of adult voices yelling at one another from just behind a closer door—are nightmarish. The interplay between these extremes creates the foundation for Among the Sleep’s unorthodox horror. As the player navigates a surreal environment modelled on a suburban home—solving simple puzzles by pushing, pulling, and climbing objects—they are thrown between moments of comfort and abject terror.

amongthesleepinsert1

There’s no way to fight back against the apparitions who occasionally stalk the player, but the mechanics used to crawl, run, and hide are satisfying in their own right. There’s a great sense of weight to every movement in the game. The toddler pulls himself up onto chair seats with little grunts, occasionally falls to the ground after walking for too long, and lightly touches his own stomach in absent moments of contemplation. The various areas the player explores are similarly well realized. Among the Sleep remains visually imaginative from start to finish, making engaging levels out of both mundane settings like bedrooms and kitchens and more surreal environments where the child’s perception has warped his home into a bizarre misrepresentation of reality.

All of this attention and imagination works together to make for a game that—while full of distorted portrayals of the ordinary world—feels extremely believable. None of the ominous noises, foreboding environments, and shadowy figures would be as frightening as they are without Krillbite’s decision to make players inhabit the role of a two-year-old. Because their portrayal of the toddler is so effective, it’s impossible not to sympathize with his fear of a cloudy, usually nonsensical world. The ability to relate by pulling our minds back to a childhood state makes the player desperate to escape from upsetting situations. It would be a hard-hearted person who doesn’t feel a dire need to protect the tiny, incredibly vulnerable protagonist from the terrible danger lurking around every corner.

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These positives aside, Among the Sleep’s short runtime and fairly anticlimactic ending does take away somewhat from what is otherwise a great game. Without moving too far into describing a plot that is improved by its intentionally vague basis, the story never quite reaches the heights it aspires to. Among the Sleep, despite its spooky tone and unsettling atmosphere, has more in common with games like Papo & Yo or Journey than Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent. And while its first two-thirds do an exceptional job of establishing its thematic focus, the narrative payoff falls a little flat due to an abrupt conclusion.

Just the same, the process of inhabiting Among the Sleep’s world is effective enough to communicate its concepts on a deep level. The experience of taking on the role of a bewildered toddler trying to rationalize a frightening world lingers in the mind far longer than any of its explicit plot points. This is enough to recommend Among the Sleep as not just an effective horror game, but also as a well-told, emotionally affecting story that has more to offer than just an unique premise.

Horror Game Among the Sleep Coming to PlayStation 4

Horror Game Among the Sleep Coming to PlayStation 4

Almost a year after it achieved it’s Kickstarter goal, Krillbite Studio has announced that it’s first game Among the Sleep will be coming to PlayStation 4.

In a post on the PlayStation Blog, Managing Director Ole Andreas Jordet expressed his gratitude to fans that supported the title during it’s Kickstarter before announcing that it will be coming to the PlayStation 4, as well as having Project Morpheus support.

Among the Sleep is a first person survival horror game where players play as a two-year-old exploring in and outside of their house in the middle of the night.

“Merging a child’s perception of reality with its wild imagination provides an interesting setting to tell a story,” says Jordet. “With only your teddy bear as a companion, we hope players will unravel what is actually causing the fear and confusion.”

Among the Sleep does not have a set release date yet, but will be playable on PC through Steam, and the PlayStation 4.