The idea of a child becoming scared of everyday surroundings under the cloak of darkness is a feeling all or most of us have once felt, though one that is not always remembered. Among the Sleep brings that feeling back to life, and shows how a child’s imagination can twist the environment around him to reflect confusing issues of abandonment and abuse to something tangible, but still terrifying.

Among the Sleep follows the nightmarish adventures of a 2-year-old in search of his mother. The game starts on his birthday, with a doting mother feeding him cake and giving him a Teddy Bear as a present. Imagination kicks in when he’s left alone, and his Teddy Bear comes to life and they take a short adventure into a closet, and this is where Among the Sleep introduces how its concept works. The benign, normal contents of the closet are transformed into a malicious scene. It’s easy to see how a toddler can mistake a dark trenchcoat for a hulking monster.

Among the Sleep’s biggest success is playing with every-day surroundings as seen from the perspective of a young child, and twisting them. There was one moment when I was crawling under a bed, and a set of boots slammed onto the ground in front of me. I crept hesitantly out, expecting danger, but was instead met with the realization that the boots merely fell off the bed, and weren’t inhabited by anyone. Likewise, sounds are adapted in the same manner. The ticking of a clock, for example, is exaggerated and sounds aggressive on one tick, and then returns to a dull thud before it repeats the process.

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The barebones of Among the Sleep involves exploring the twisted, spooky surroundings conjured by the imagination of a 2-year-old. Running, climbing and crawling is the main means of exploration, and they’re used to solve minor puzzles, which usually involve finding an object or objects to move onto a new area. At one point I was presented with a locked door, and needed to use a tennis ball to knock a glass jar off the top of a shelf that held the key. None of the puzzles took much more thought than that, and the main focus is instead on exploration.

Unfortunately, Among the Sleep is filled with oddities and glitches that tore me away from the creepy world it creates. Visual glitches are common, especially in the beginning where black triangles jut out of the surroundings.

Even at a gameplay level there are things that kept me from getting too immersed in Among the Sleep’s atmosphere. Its frame rate is extremely clunky and movements feel sluggish — and I was constantly bothered by this since Among the Sleep is, at its core, a game mostly involving exploration. Certain areas are also susceptible to glitches that cause you to fall through the map to produce a game over screen. On top of that, aspects of the sound design of the Teddy Bear and the child stuck out as weird. The toddler makes a rasping, sharp breathing sound when climbing around or running — which is a frequent activity in Among the Sleep — that sounds like something I should be running away from, not making. Likewise, the Teddy Bear’s voice is, well, creepy. The writing is bland and its delivered monotonously in a way that doesn’t combine well with his dead, offputting eyes. This was possibly intentional to throw the player off at the start, but I found it less and less relevant as the game continued, and more of a distraction than anything else.

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But one portion of Among the Sleep’s gameplay that I found incredibly effective was when the main antagonist came into play. A tall, dark figure, who appears like a scribbled drawing that a child would make, stalks some of Among the Sleep’s locations. It bears a heavy resemblance to Slenderman, and even borrows ideas from the game Slender, namely that when it is nearby, the screen becomes staticky and noises are turbulent. I felt anxious whenever this creature was around, and its appearances are well balanced between its ominous presence, and it appearing out-of-nowhere for a jump scare.

“I felt anxious whenever this creature was around”

As effective as Among the Sleep‘s frights were, there isn’t a good balance between these scary moments and the relative blandness of the rest of the game, and part of the issue is with Among the Sleep’s concept. I do think that the idea of a 2-year-old character of the horror game eventually works out in Among the Sleep, but it takes a long time to actually realize this potential. The beginning is slow, and stuck between being too immature for most people, and yet it has themes of abuse and alcoholism too mature for someone young. The Teddy Bear in particular was a big stumbling block for me. His writing is without charm and is too immature to carry any weight or interest for those above the age of 10.

Among the Sleep is slightly redeemed by its ending that successfully balances mixing a dark subject matter with a conclusion that still has a brightside. Certain moments leading up to it did a great job of providing foreshadowing, but it was also supposed to be a big reveal-type of moment, which it wasn’t. The surprise was spoiled by hints that were too heavy handed and obvious by the time Among the Sleep was ready to reveal the realities of what has been happening throughout the game.

Wrap Up

Among the Sleep has scary portions, which it demonstrates very well. It’s clear that the developers have a great understanding of what is scary, and they never lean too heavily on one specific type of fright — like tiring jump scares. While its story lacked subtlety, it didn’t actually make for a bad experience or concept. The big issue with Among the Sleep is that it’s incredibly unpolished. The actual game just doesn’t run well, and its ratio of scary moments and boring moments hovers at around 50-50. There’s a scary, anxiously-thrilling experience found in Among the Sleep, but there’s also a lot to drag you out of it.

Author’s Note regarding the pronouns of the child: I don’t believe a gender of the child was ever specified, which leads me to believe the developers meant for players to project themselves onto the otherwise unspecified main character. I used male pronouns for the ease of both myself and readers.

Among the Sleep: review
Pros
  • Scary Moments
  • Good concept
Cons
  • Foreshadowing is too obvious
  • Lacks polish
  • Boring moments
4Overall Score
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