Among The Sleep Review
For companies producing their first title, it can beÂ an extremely nervous time. What with the huge competition and available resources available it can seem daunting, yet often indie development companies have the original ideas that influence current trends in the industry. They dare to differentiate themselves from the status quoÂ and produce games that offer gamers a unique experience. However, certain genres can be harder to make, horror to pick an example. Subjectivity can play a huge role in titles in the genre as well as timing and so few companies have managed to produce something truly reflective of the genre whilst implementing their vision. Could an indie title do it?
Among the Sleep is developedÂ and published by KrillbiteÂ Studios, an indie developer from Hamar, Norway. This eleven-man team is relatively new to the gaming industry and only boasts one other game called The Plan, a short free to play casual game produced along side Among the Sleep. Certainly, the current title is better known due to its apparent permanent place on the Steam front page, GOG and the Humble Store as well as it being the companyâs first official title, but does it have what it takes to become a classic horror indie?
The title is a first person action horror with a unique twist. The character you are playing is a small adventurous toddler who receives a talking teddy for his birthday. One evening you wake up in the middle of the night to hear muffled sounds coming from outside your bedroom and with your mother missing, you are the only one left to discover the source of the mysterious noises. As you wonder through the house you discover gateways into another world, where you are forced to venture to find your mother. The story is interesting to say the least but fairly loose and open to interpretation due to the surreal imagery. You are always left wondering about how the situation arose in the first place, which is great. Horror always works best when pieces of the plot is unknown.
The transition period between the calming hum of your mother whilst you drift to sleep and the darkness of night and intimidating noisesÂ is sudden, immediately throwing you into the horror of the game, leaving you on edge and fragile, creating not only a great start but a insightfulÂ introduction to the toddler himself. The reason whyÂ the toddler was a great pick of main character is that heâs innocent and defenceless, allowing players to sympathize with his vulnerability and whilst he is with his mother, he is depicted as a normal, loving child.
As all horror games do, this title started scary. Traversing the house and its many rooms didnât just look creepy but it felt dangerous. It used props found around the house like the sudden breakages of glass and appliances in the kitchen or the use of the duvet in the bedroom. As you have no prior knowledge of the house, every room is a scary experience, but as the game progresses and you leave the familiar setting of home behind, the horror becomes similar and uninteresting.
As you enter the strange surreal world the game becomes less terrifying and more curious. The different worlds you enter have become full of recycled sounds and scares that inhabited the house, however you are introducedÂ to the major threat. Although you are left curious throughout most of the game, when the enemy is revealedÂ to you it is a little anticlimactic. Its giant, thin frame allows it to look goofy rather thenÂ scary. As well as this, itâs extremely slow; so much so that the two-year-old child you play can outrun the creature easily leaving me exceeding under whelmed.
Although the surreal world lacked in frights, it did have its appeal. Familiar objects like swing sets and climbing frames were scatteredÂ amongstÂ the dark landscapes. Even draws, similar to the ones in the house that contained clothing were attached to trees and you could use them, as you could in the real world.
An unexpected element of this game was the puzzles. Knowing full well this horror game was about navigating the world, I didnât realize the emphasis on solving them to move forward. Obstacles were primarily blocking your path due to your size. Often opening doors was a problems so traversing nearby shelves in order to reach the door handle was extremely interesting. Due to your characters size, issues that similar games didnât have, like amnesia, made the game more interesting and awarded you with satisfaction once you solved them. At first the puzzles were tricky, but just like the horror, as the game progress the challenge quickly diminished.
The core mechanics of the game are suitedÂ to the style of character you are. You can walk but as you are usedÂ to crawling, you can achieveÂ greater speeds whilst doing it. This will also have the advantage of keeping you out of sight when needed. You can achieveÂ a faster walk but after a while you fall over due to your inexperience, which is a nice touch. This also gives you the incentivesÂ to crawl and play along with the gameâs creepy antics. Adding to this, you can also lean round corners and view the upcoming environment, aiding you to look for nearby dangers, adding to the titles suspense.
The most interesting mechanic is hugging your teddy. Once embracing the cuddly toy, he glows, providing a light to shine into darken areas. This interacts well with the character due to his age and mentality. As the game progresses, Teddy becomes more of a guide and a guardian then the mere stuffed toy he started life as.
The sound design was generally good, allowing sounds to beÂ sudden enough to cause minor jumps and real enough to avoid breaking immersion. The kitchen was a great example of this, hearing glass and cutlery hit the ground. Further on in the game I found some sounds were unneeded and on some occasions sounded overdone when the scene would have suited better alternatives. Sometimes less is more.
The graphics were uninspiring, as many locations that were createdÂ looked dull. Texture quality was fairly weak but when most of the game is based in the dark, you tend not to notice. Lighting effects were the best looking element of the visual content in moments like hugging teddy and from gas lamps often found in the surreal environment. It tended to add to the unsettling nature of the environment and create just enough light to see outlines of objects in the distance.
The game did suffer from some frame rate issues, which was concerning. In the fear that my PC was slowing up on me I checked the forums. Although many people havenât suffered from this, a few wrote about the problem saying the processor was not being used to the full extent and presuming this was the explanation behind the drops. I advice you to look into the game before you buy and if possible download a demo to test the game on your system.
Among the Sleep had presented some interesting ideas and in parts of the game they allowed these ideas to work but it seems as the production process lead on the momentum was lost causing the game to looseÂ most of itâs horror about half way in. If you include this with the unimpressive game length it may beÂ enough to put a considerable number ofÂ you off this title, however, the company did have some good ideas. The decision to really capitalize on the childâs inability to do anything was a success. The pacing was also good allowing the enemy to remainÂ hidden for the majority of the game.
This title isnât worth the price currently beingÂ charged but it may beÂ worth an hour of your time if itâs reduced in the inevitable Steam sales in future. KrillbiteÂ games are currently inexperienced but from this title I can see they have the potential to create great titles and certainly one to look out for.