Among the Sleep was one of those games that I instantly began anticipating the moment it was announced. It was billed as a survival horror game where you play as a two year old kid, exploring his household at night time. There were a lot of trailers with spooky atmosphere and it looked like you couldn't take part in combat, but rather, all you could do was hide. Considering how much I've loved other games that use that game mechanic, like Outlast and the Amnesia series, I was hooked right away.
A horror game with an interesting concept, and a lack of combat so I couldn't fuck it up and get stuck being repeatedly assaulted by enemies?
Oh, yes, please.
As time went on, Among the Sleep stayed in the back of my mind. I'd check out tumblr posts and teasers about it, and there was always something to keep me drooling and awaiting the game. I'll admit, I was so interested in how Among the Sleep would play out, I even forced myself to watch idiot gamer PewDiePie bumblefuck his way through an early demo of the game. Which, I will mention, gave me a huge headache and I will never submit myself to that sort of torture again.
When I finally got my grabby little hands on the game, I was pretty stoked. My first impressions sagged a bit; the animation seemed a little bit too saturated and cartoony to me. I'm not sure what really bothered me about it, but the graphics seemed a little bit off putting.
Like I was promised, I got to play as a small child on his birthday. Just before I got to receive my gift (which would end up being my new BFF, Teddy), mother was interrupted by the door. You could vaguely hear her mentioning that it was my birthday and she didn't have time for whoever it was at the door. I mean, that's a really mean thing to say to the mailman, but what do I know? I'm just a toddler drooling cake on herself.
It's important to mention that at this point in the game, I figured that would be my stereotypically absentee father at the door, or some other such interference. It had to be, after all, my mother seems pretty rad and sweet.
The cut scene progresses with being taken to my room, and at this point, I got to try out some of the game mechanics. I was pretty impressed, there were a wide range of motions I could make, and I instantly took a liking to crawling about. It was speedy and effective. I could climb shelves and drawers if I pulled them out, and I got to know Teddy.
Now, I'm not sure what Mommy laced my birthday cake with, but Teddy, who is supposed to be a companion in this adventure is a wide eyed, creepy fuck. His voice and words are all very nice and comforting, but I'm a two year old tripping balls with a dead eyed teddy bear. It's an odd situation.
The real game play comes after bedtime. The player escapes the crib, and so the adventure begins. The atmosphere is really nice, and I admired the mix of familiar objects seeming more big and menacing at night. After exploring the home, the player ends up in a weird dreamscape filled with memories and symbols. The way it was animated and the logic of the areas really reminded me of American McGee's Alice, which is treated in high regard as a personal favourite of mine.
With Teddy at your side, you wander around this weird place, collecting memories and dodging what seems to be a raging hag monster in the later levels.
I wasn't a huge fan of solving the puzzles or collecting the memories. I found it boring, to be honest. The atmosphere was meant to be tense and darkly exotic, but it just felt sort of run of the mill and uninspired. What kept me going was trying to piece together the 'meaning' of the game. There are drawings littered all over the walls and hidden in areas in every level that seem to be done by the main character; drawings of the baby and teddy, Mommy, I think even Daddy was illustrated at times, as well as drawings of the hag monster.
Along with the drawings, other items laying around will give the player a good idea of the meaning, long before the big reveal. There are lots of toys and child-like items, but it seemed out of place to me that there were glass bottles just about everywhere.
“Hmn...” I thought to myself. “Somebody has a drinking problem, and I don't think it's me!”
When we finally find Mommy, at the end of the game, the narrative takes a sharp left turn. She's slumped over on the floor, emptied wine bottle in tow. Oh. Mommy's an alcoholic. Cool. She doesn't seem to pleased to see us either.
Between the memories that were collected and flash backs to our drunk mother playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we realize that she's not the perfect woman, like she was portrayed earlier. The game goes so far as to end with the main character being “rescued” by the father at the door.
In most games, I would have loved this dynamic of peeling back the layers with the help of memories and clues. I mean, basically, that's what every Silent Hill game is, short of whacking things with a pipe. But in Among the Sleep, it felt pandering and frankly, unfair.
The mother is presented as such a good person at the start as a strawman, and we never get too many hints to her being anything but, until the very end of the game. It was startling, but not in the way I think the game makers wanted it to be. It was never implied that she was physically abusive with the child (if it was, I missed it). Even the memories they showed of her when she was drunk and angry didn't seem too extreme. More like she was frustrated and angry but held herself back from taking it out on her baby. Finding the mother drunk on the floor obviously didn't paint her in the most responsible light, sure, but she came across as somebody who was in over her head and needed help, not somebody who should be vilified as a raging hag demon. Don't get me wrong, I understand the concept of the child's comprehension being much different than reality, but it felt really unfair and manipulative.
Among the Sleep took an interesting concept that hadn't been done before and played it out fairly well. At the end of the day, though, I feel like it missed it's mark. I'm not sure it earned the genre title of survival horror, as it wasn't really all that scary, and the bigger picture of the game just seemed a little bit too mean spirited and randomly thrown together. I'm glad I got to check it out, but I'm not sure I would go back and replay it, or even recommend it.