Among the Sleep

Among the Sleep

Among the Sleep is one third of a good horror game, one third of a bad horror game, and one third of a merely confused horror game. “Confused” is not the same as “confusing,” though. Starring a toddler in a nightmare of his own limited imagination makes for some of the most straightforward, low-hanging horror imagery in existence. The way it presents its protagonist through gameplay is initially inspired – he can only run a certain distance before he falls on his face, his source of light is hugging a teddy bear, and even the pause menu is accessed by covering his face with his fingers. The game just can’t think of anything to do with these ideas. Being too small to open most doors without standing on a chair isn’t exactly a core gameplay mechanic. The controls also use Frictional Games’ ambivalently-intuitive system of object interaction, possibly to illustrate how deliberately the child has to move to accomplish anything, but more likely because in 2014, every horror game was still trying to be Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

To that end, Among the Sleep features multiple invincible monsters and plenty of apparent hiding places, but only its final segment uses them for more than scripted background noises and obvious jump scares. If the intent was to lull players into a false sense of security, then mission accomplished, because the eventual moments of vulnerability are genuinely terrifying, but I’m not sure if that was worth sacrificing two thirds of the game for. It tries to compensate by using the time-honored technique of tricking the player into thinking they’re in more danger than they actually are, but it’s not particularly adept at that. It doesn’t help that the teddy bear functions as a chatty supporting character; him finally shutting his mouth for the final stretch is a big part of why it’s the best part of the game. Lastly, the narrative hinges on a final reveal that doesn’t really gel with earlier information. It’s heavily foreshadowed, but even the foreshadowing functions as misdirection, strengthening the overall disconnect. In the end, while certainly well-intentioned, Among the Sleep doesn’t do enough to stand out from its incredibly crowded genre.

4.5/10
4.5/10

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