Among the Sleep Review
In recent years, the horror genre has become seemingly diluted; no longer is there a scarcity of jumpscare-fuelled horror games, the sort of YouTube fodder we’ve all come to expect from a genre once renowned for its ingenuity and uniquity. Like many of its predecessors, Among the Sleep appears to be your run-of-the-mill horror game from the outside, and that may have put some off trying it altogether. What lies beneath the exterior however, is a game built on something much greater than the sum of its parts.
I first heard about Among the Sleep in 2011; at the time it was a blip on the radar of most – a thesis project at the college university of Hedmark, Norway. From the get-go, there was interest from both the Norwegian Film Institute and Innovation Norway, two companies that continued to found Krillbite Studio, who would, on May 29th, 2014, go on to release their first ever horror game in Among the Sleep.
I can still remember the day that I personally read about Among the Sleep for the first time – it looked extremely promising; this was during a time when many of my peers were engrossed with horror titles such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender, two games that would arguably bring about a modern-day revolution in the horror genre that would lead to a vast collection of first-person “jump-fests” making their ways into the homes of millions of people around the world. The concept of Among the Sleep was strong; unlike the aforementioned titles, Among the Sleep placed players in the role of a two year old child as they faced their worst nightmares with only their bear “Teddy” for company. I loved the idea, and after three long years the game finally hit Steam last month. So did it live up to expectations?
If you were to glance over Among the Sleep; perhaps watch it over a relatives’ shoulder for a few brief minutes or catch a one-off Let’s Play on YouTube, you may be led to thinking that, like many recent horror games that have come before it, Among the Sleep thrives off the same cheap thrills that are good for an hour or two but then become a little bland and obvious towards the end. I won’t deny that there are points in Among the Sleep where those sorts of influences shine through; there is the odd occasion where Among the Sleep, whether it intends to or not, feels as though its become a little too Amnesia. If this were all that Among the Sleep had to offer its players, I would be writing a very different review to the one I’m writing you now. Fortunately, it seems, Krillbite had a few tricks up their sleeve.
Among the Sleep starts off rather innocently; you’re sat in your high-chair on your 2nd birthday, being spoon-fed delicious birthday cake that your mother has baked for you. Its not long before you’re carried off by your mother to your room to play while she attends to other matters, and its during this period of down-time that you meet your companion for the rest of the game – Teddy. Teddy portrays the force of “good” in Among the Sleep’s world, being the one source of comfort for our protagonist in the hours of darkness, the character can hold Teddy close to act as a light-source of sorts – while I personally didn’t make much use of this feature during my playthrough of Among the Sleep, it certainly plays a key role in helping to minimalise the fear in the scarier moments of the game. Its a nice touch by Krillbite to find a way of organically providing a light-source without making it extremely obvious or actively clumsy.
After a brief tutorial where the player learns how to get around the environment, move objects and open doors, you’re set down for a good night’s sleep – this is where the game truly begins. One thing that really stood out to me is how fantastic Krillbite are at creating an atmosphere; almost immediately after the “night” section of the game begins, the mood shifts from being one of happiness and cheer surrounding your birthday, to a very cold, malevolent one. You immediately feel on edge and uncomfortable, and I think its a real testament to Krillbite that they can so masterfully design an environment to make you feel uneasy almost instantaneously.
If I had to think of a word to use for recent horror games such as Amnesia and Slender, it would be indulgent; many horror games start off correctly, by teasing the player with occasional creaking floorboards or noises in the distance, but then build into this constant “something around every corner” scenario where it goes past being frightening and just becomes plain ordinary and obvious – more than once in recent memory I’ve finished a horror game only to find that towards the end I’m not really jumping at anything which “pops out from the darkness” because I already anticipate it coming. This is an increasingly common practice in horror games and it turns what can be a fantastic tool of fright into a gimmick. Thankfully, I never got this vibe with Among the Sleep, and the scares were always just enough to give you the feeling something might be following you, without overdoing it and ruining the magic entirely. A kudos to Among the Sleep’s sound department – the subtlety of each noise, of every little “what-if” moment really makes you think twice before you wander into somewhere new – this is how horror games should make you feel for the entirety of their duration, and its something Krillbite nail with absolute gusto.
The one cliché that Among the Sleep does follow is the “monster” – admittedly this is probably unavoidable, but I actually feel that the scariest moments of the game come before you discover what’s actually out there. The mystery of not knowing what’s lurking in the darkness is what made my stomach turn and gave me the cold sweats; there’s something about the animosity of it that makes it that much more frightening. When “it”, for lack of a better word, turns up, you’ll certainly jump out of your skin the first few times, and you won’t forget it for the rest of the game, but I feel Among the Sleep does its best work when it grabs that feeling of loneliness and really runs with it. If we ever see any add-ons or DLC for Among the Sleep, I truly hope this is an emotion that Krillbite capitalise on time and time again.
I rate Among the Sleep a 4/5. It is without doubt one of the most innovative horror games I have played in recent years, and when it shines it absolutely excels. There are signs of growing pains and the whole affair does feel like its over a little quickly, but for Krillbite’s first efforts, it really should be applauded – and the fact that I wanted even more perhaps says more about the game’s quality than anything I’ve written here so far. To create a horror game with such atmosphere and tension, particularly in a genre so over-populated as this, deserves acknowledgement – while there are some occasional clichés that rear their ugly heads, the game stays true enough to itself that you’ll enjoy every minute and every fright will feel as genuine as the last.
Among the Sleep dreams big, and in its finest hours, it is the most refreshing horror experience I’ve had in a very long time.
Friend of the website Marvipan recently played through Among the Sleep! You can check out his playthrough below, but be wary of spoilers if you have not yet played the game yourself!