What’s the skinny? Among the Sleep is an atmospheric first person adventure game in which you play a 2-year-old child exploring his home after dark, in the “borderland between dreams and reality”. It’s developed by Norwegian indie studio Krillbite, and is set to be one of the most unsettling and affecting games this year.
Just the facts, please: Beginning life as a Kickstarter project, Among the Sleep surpassed its funding target of $200,000 back in May. The premise behind it is incredibly simple, and when you describe it, it sounds very sweet: you take the role of a cute little toddler, investigating his or her home after mummy and daddy have gone to bed. It would surprise some people to learn that Krillbite’s game is actually a creepy psychological horror.
It’s all a matter of perspective, see? To you or I, wandering around the house after dark is rarely anything to be afraid of, unless you just bought a new coffee table with dangerously-sharp shin-high corners, but for a 2-year-old it could be terrifying. Most parents will be familiar with the horrible, undiluted terror in the desperate cry of a child waking from a nightmare into a dark room – imagine what twisted, misinterpreted imagery might cause such stark fear and then imagine seeing it from their perspective. A shirt draped over a bedpost becomes a creeping phantom, a hat-rack in the foyer becomes a monstrous prowler lurking in the shadows, a whistle of wind through an open window becomes the low howl of a flesh-eating beast…
Among the Sleep plays on this angle, evoking a nightmarish otherworld that only the child – and you – can see. The onus is on exploration and moving forward, navigating the world with the simple automation of a toddler: see a thing, walk towards it, get scared, run away. You may have an advantage in that you’re seeing the puzzles and danger through your adult eyes, but the terror is made real by your lack of manoeuvrability and self-defence. A toddler cannot fight or use tools to defend himself, and neither can you. All you can do is hide as your own imagination assaults you.
The only ally you have is your teddy, a constant companion who – in keeping with the dreamlike quality of the world – is able to help you solve certain puzzles, taking on a living persona to open doors, for instance, as he guides you to find your mother. As you move from the frightening halls of your home into a surreal, imaginary otherworld, the game will assail you with vivid colours, simultaneously filling you with the wonders of exploration and the unavoidable fear of the unknown. You’ll take this little toddler along way from home to find his mother – let’s just hope you can get him back safely, too.
Should we be excited? In a word, yes. The fact that Among the Sleep hit its Kickstarter goal is impressive enough, but the premise itself is original and exciting. Instead of relying on jump-scares and blatant horror, Krillbite’s game goes for subtle creepiness interjected with moments of helplessness and an awful lot of “did I just see what I think I saw?”.
You only have to watch the Kickstarter video to see the passion that Krillbite have for their game, and that the driving force behind it is to create something new and individual that makes you think about what you’re doing. This is a game world where your only friend is your teddy, where everything towers above you, where faceless, nameless terrors are out to get you and where all you can do to protect yourself is hide.
A protagonist who can’t talk, can’t run, can’t kick the ass of whatever abomination is scratching at the bedroom door, is enough to ensure that Among the Sleep has you on your toes every step of the way, and the puzzles and exploration aspects look like a great way to immerse you in the adventure.
While we don’t expect the actual story to be all that complex, we are expecting Among the Sleep to charm us, impress us and terrify us. Hands down, this is looking like one of the scariest indie games of 2013.