Monday, June 2, 2014

Video Game Review: Among the Sleep

While there are a lot of scary games in existence, few things can capture the fear of what really scared you when you were a child.  The world was big and scary, monsters still existed around every corner and the only thing that could protect you was your parents.  Krillbite Studio has taken on an enormous endeavor in an attempt to recapture that period of your life with their newest Kickstarter funded game Among the Sleep.

In this game, you play as a two year old child.  The opening of the game takes place on your birthday where you learn the controls of the game in your nursery by playing with your new present:  a teddy bear who comes to life when your mother leaves the room. After 'playing' with the teddy bear, you are put in your crib to sleep sweet dreams, only to wake up to find your mother gone and your teddy bear urging you to find her.  An exploration of the house leads you to a strange world, seemingly made from the young child's memories.  While there, you must collect the fond memories you have of your mother in order to open up new paths and eventually reach her.

This game is similar to Slender in that you have no way of defending yourself from any danger.  However, while this made arguably little sense in Slender, a two year old child would have no way of defending itself in real life. As such, the game is purely about exploration, mainly solving puzzles that involve finding items and putting them in a specific spot.  At the point I'm at in the game, the puzzles have not been extremely challenging, the hardest part being actually finding the items in order to advance.  Finding said items requires you to explore the strange world in Among the Sleep.  It truly looks like a child's nightmare: playgrounds stand in dark, creepy atmospheric environments.  Strange, nightmarish swamplands are populated with seemingly oversized chairs and furniture, making you feel small and helpless as you try to find your mother.

This is where Among the Sleep truly excels: in atmosphere and immersion.  As I played the game, I truly felt like I was taking a step inside a child's nightmare.  I felt like the young child I was playing as, trying to make sense of a world I didn't understand.  I felt scared to death every time a tiny sound was heard just outside my field of vision or when the game's monster (I've only seen one monster thus far, and I have yet to tell if it's the same monster over and over or multiple creatures that look the same) stalks by and I'm forced to hide in a closet clutching my teddy bear (the flashlight mechanic in this game) so I have just enough light to see that I'm not in danger.  You fear for yourself and you fear for the child you are playing as, and you can never be sure if the perceived scary thing is just atmospheric or if it is an actual danger, which makes you feel all the more like a young child.  And because you are experiencing the game from the eyes of a two year old child, there is a pretty deep mystery towards the actual goings on in the game.  Is the creature just something out of your nightmares, or were those nightmares inspired by something out of the baby's short life?  Are these just creepy environments, or are they how the baby perceives the world around him?  I have yet to finish the game (I'll probably do a follow up to this review once I do), but the unknown elements of this game are enough to compel me to keep going even when it gets scary enough that you're digging through your old stuff trying to find your own stuffed animal to clutch out of sheer terror.

If you are not a fan of horror games where the protagonist is completely defenseless to the dangers around him like Outlast, Slender and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I doubt Among the Sleep is going to change your mind about the subject.  However, if you can get over the element of being helpless in a strange world, then this game might be one of your games of the year (At this pont for me, it's easily in my Top Ten of 2014).  It's immersive in ways most Triple-A games can only dream of and it proves that the horror genre in video games is fully alive and well.  Do not miss this game.  It has set a new standard for horror games.

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