When I think indie games, my brain focuses firstly on horror games. While the Triple A industry has left them mostly by the way side, the indie scene has made it one of their calling cards. And while some are made for free, others require a little bit of a kick start. Krillbite Studio is one such group who turned to Kickstarter to fund their project. And the response was encouraging as they made and surpassed their goal. Now, after a little over a year of waiting, I finally got my hands on their unique horror title, Among the Sleep.
Among the sleep puts you into the footie pajamas of a two year old toddler on his birthday. You and your mother are celebrating when there’s a mysterious knock at the door. She comes back with a present, a teddy bear. The teddy bear talks to you and helps you through a basic rundown of the game mechanics in a very subtle tutorial experience. That night, your bear disappears and you are tipped out of your crib. After finding your bear again, you seek your mom in her room, only to find her gone. Now, it is your task to search through four scary locations to find memories of your mother and reunite the two of you.
What really interests me about this game is that it does an excellent job of making you feel like that two year old. The opening sequence helps set the foundation of your toddler view of the world. This mindset is reinforced by the controls. You can crawl faster than you can walk, you hug your teddy for light, you are required to climb up chairs and dressers to open doors. All these little details compound the initial belief that you are a helpless toddler in a terrifying world.
And the world is terrifying. The atmosphere is spot on in every level. Even in the times when everything should be safe, there is a phenomenal sense of foreboding. Everything feels off in the starting sections and it only gets more unnerving from then on. The settings get increasingly more supernatural as the game progresses. This was a double edged sword. On one hand, every level was very well done, and the settings inspired real tension. However, these unnatural settings took away from the unique aspect of seeing the world form a toddlers perspective. Instead of viewing it through a child imagination of the world around him, we see it through traditional metaphors done in common horror level design. This is mostly a missed opportunity on the developer.
The world building is accompanied by excellent sound design. The sound effects are spot on and jolting, adding an unnerving feeling to even the most mundane times of play. Small touches help the more seem more real, little things like a difference in sound between dropping a baseball and a tennis ball. The music is haunting and dark in a perfect style. As is common with horror games, the music often tells you how to feel. While it is evocative, it also down plays the horror a bit. When certain music cues go off, you know you are in danger, or that a monster is near. This makes it easy to hide and wait for the music to stop to know that it is safe.
Most of the gameplay is between simple puzzle solving and exploration. The puzzle solving is never challenging enough to really impede progress, but does offer nice tension in times when you want to move quickly from a threat. Saying that exploration is a part of the gameplay is being a bit generous. The game is very linear, with only a few areas with enough space to get turned around. Experiencing the atmosphere of the game is the focus, rather than varied problem solving.
With great pacing and phenomenal atmosphere, Among the Sleep is an excellent horror experience. Its unique premise and spot on design make it engrossing with a plot that sticks with you. Some people may not appreciate the fact that it can be beaten in two to three hours, but Krillbite used that time to condense the fear and offer an excellent use of time.
Summary: Unique presentation with startlingly smart design makes for a short but memorable horror experience.
Verdict: 9 out of 10