PC, PS4, XBONE, Mac
Among the Sleep is a unique horror game as seen from the eyes of a toddler. It opens with the player celebrating their second birthday with their Mother. The party is interrupted briefly by a knock at the door, while she’s answering the door you can hear the vague sounds of an argument taking place. It’s easy to decipher that the man at the door is the Toddler’s Father, and that he is no longer in the picture, at least according to her. She comes back with a present, not mentioning it’s from the Father, and takes you back to your back to your room to open it. Upon opening it, you discover a cute little talking bear named Teddy, who is now your very best friend and ally.
As I got into the game, I was immediately put into the little footie pajamas of the Toddler. Sounds that you would normally know as an adult, like the house settling, a motorcycle passing by, or a radiator turning on, sounded loud, distorted, and terrifying.With that, the game begins. Teddy leads you on a series of tasks to get you used to walking, and crawling, around as a toddler at the beginning, and you can almost immediately sense that not all is right with the world. Come nightfall, the horror begins, and you’re left to navigate a world of make believe and memories with only the aid of the friendly Teddy, trying to find your mother, who has mysteriously gone missing.
To say that the gameplay is effective puts it mildly. As I got into the game, I was immediately put into the little footie pajamas of the Toddler. Sounds that you would normally know as an adult, like the house settling, a motorcycle passing by, or a radiator turning on, sounded loud, distorted, and terrifying. I had a great sense of deja vu listening to all this, getting unsettled, and then remembering that’s just a normal house sound. The gameplay itself is not overly complicated, it’s on the easier side, but complex puzzles are not something we’d expect a toddler to do.
As I began to put the plot together, I realized the monsters were very much real, if exaggerated by a child’s mind. I’d say the plot hit too close to home, but in reality, the plot was an almost exact match to my experience growing up.
That sense of deja vu was not the only thing unsettling about the game. The most research I’d put into the game was watching five minutes of a let’s play before deciding I was definitely going to play it and turning it off. This is perhaps one game where a few spoilers might have done me some good. As the game went on and I began to put the plot together, I realized the monsters were very much real, if exaggerated by a child’s mind. I’d say the plot hit too close to home, but in reality, the plot was an almost exact match to my experience growing up. I don’t typically find myself easily rattled by anything, and I’m not an advocate of putting a trigger warning on anything. However, even though this game was only about three and a half hours long, I had to step away from the game and take some time to compose myself.
That said, I would recommend this game again and again. The different perspective was completely engrossing, and this game shows just what can be accomplished with crowdfunding, talent, and a good concept.
The “Prologue”, however, had some problems. The prologue takes you through some of the break up between the Mother and the Father, just before you move from one house to the one in the main game. In the game, you’re attempting to save different stuffed animals from the cold snow blowing in from carelessly left open windows. The monster, rather than the fully formed and realized creature in the original game, is wispy and hard to see. For the most part, I only noticed it was coming near because the Toddler would start hyperventilating. When I was caught by the monster, there was nothing but the screen going to black, there was no cut scene to show the monster catching me.
Most of the voice tracks between the Mother and Father were recycled from the original game, so I didn’t feel like I really learned anything new. The ending was effective and moving, however, and since it only takes about thirty minutes to beat, there’s no reason not to experience it.
The experience of Among the Sleep sucked me in and kept me engrossed like no other game I’ve played in quite some time time. This is a game I will probably replay at some point. Initially, when I saw it was only three and a half hour long or so, I thought it seemed a little short. However, the game is fully fleshed out with a moving story.
It’s hard for me to say just how much of my connection with the game was colored by my own experiences. If I were to compare it to games I’ve played in the past that I didn’t have an emotional connection to, I would compare it most closely to Gone Home, where you slowly unfold the story through notes and household objects as you explore your home, and the topsy-turviness of American McGee’s Alice. Those are both games I utterly adored, so I can say with a good deal of confidence, regardless of how I felt about the story personally, that I would recommend this game without question.
Just a day after I posted my review of this game, on October 7th, my own mother died. Because this game effected me so heavily, both before and after her death, I wrote a blog in regards to her and the game. I’ve decided to include it along with my review. Please note, the following contains SPOILERS as I talk in depth about what effected me so deeply in the game.
I found out my mother died today, in a manner that was about as messy and sad as the rest of her life. I don’t know how to react to it, but I process things through writing, so I’m going to do a bit of that.
Recently I reviewed a game on the Future Monkeys podcast, during Episode 10 and on a separate blog post, called Among the Sleep. I kind of hedged around the storyline, but I described it as being so close to my early childhood that I had to step away from it, compose myself, and come back to it later. It struck me to the absolute core, and pulled me right back to where I was at that age… In the light of recent events, I’m going to break my no spoilers rule and talk about the details of the plot.
So, short breakdown…In Among the Sleep, you play as a two year old toddler whose mother goes missing in a land of memories and imagination. You attempt to find her, with the help of your best bear buddy, Teddy, by searching for warm memories of your mother at her best, most loving moments.
During the beginning portions of your search, you come across a painting depicting a woman taking a drink from an old forest well…As she drinks, the painting shifts, showing her becoming monstrous and drifting off towards the lake. At that moment, I knew this game was not about monsters, it was about alcoholism and the monster addiction turns us into.
I had my own dream about my mother when I was around three or four…I dreamt there was a witch using my mother’s appearance, and I would never know who was the witch and who was really my mother. For days, I looked askance at my mother, not quite trusting she wasn’t the witch in disguise after that nightmare.
My mother, Bonita (never Bonnie), was a firecracker. She was the light in every room, the spark of life in every party, and as destructive as a forest fire. She was my biggest inspiration and my scariest monster.
Among the Sleep did a shockingly good job of showing the duality of that kind of parent/child relationship…Your parent is your protector, your everything. I have so many good memories of my mother, I loved her so fiercely…However, the monster she could become until the day she died strained our relationship so much that it was all I could do to make my weekly or bi-weekly calls to check in on her. She had me in knots at the end of every conversation, drained emotionally…And yet…And yet…
How could you not love her?
My father recited an old poem about her often, they’d both laughed and hug after he’d say it, so I’ll end with it…
“There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.”
Verdict – Buy
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