Posted: May 28
Obviously, reviewing horror / thriller games is tricky at best since fear is subjective; some find FNAF terrifying, others don't. For the record, I am a horror game veteran with games such as Silent Hill 1 & 2, Resident Evil 2 & 3, and a ton of indie horror games under my belt. So it is entirely possible that my tolerance for terror is forming a bias on opinion.
+ Brilliant atmosphere, pretty much spot-on
+ Great environment design, cohesive and consistent with the theme
+ Decent Audio Design, even if the ambience sfx is a tad over-recycled
- Horror? What horror?
- Tone and atmosphere is very jarring, changing dramatically as game goes on
- Gameplay is very textbook, and is altogether unchallenging
Forget those shadowy nightmares, that teddy is 10 times scarier than anything else this game will throw at you.
I really, REALLY wanted to like Among The Sleep. I'm always on the lookout for innovative ideas, and the concept of a horror game through the eyes of a 2 year old was certainly intriguing. The story, without going into spoilers, is essentially that of a toddler who awakes in the middle of the night, and upon hearing noises downstairs decides to go investigate and look for mummy. Controls are the standard First-Person control scheme, with the nice added touch of crawling for increased movement speed as opposed to walking.
Personally, I think the level design is where the game does really well; the environment is designed to be really up-scaled and large, and it does a great job of portraying a toddler's perspective of the world. Chairs are giant obstacles that take effort to climb onto, fridges feel like a giant white pillar, and getting from point A to B is an arduous task.
The atmosphere is unnerving and subtly sinister, reminding me of the foreboding and evil vibe I got from Dead Space or Alien: Isolation. Lighting is sparse, casting shadows on everything, and at one point a flash of lightning made a tree seem like a monster. A nice touch showing the power of a child's imagination. All this combined gives us a first hour of feeling really tiny and vulnerable, exactly how a horror game should do. I was nervous, I was jumpy, and I was really looking forward to how the rest of the game would play out.
And then, well... the game kinda gave up trying.
I had assumed the suburbian home environment I saw in trailers and screenshots would continue throughout the game, and since it was up-scaled to be so large this would have been entirely possible. But for some reason, the the game turns into the Adventures of Alice In Wonderland opening with a literal tumbling down the rabbit hole. We start seeing the atmosphere's creepiness being traded in for whimsy and wonderment, and any sense of danger just drops out of the game with an audible thud. It occasionally tries to remind us of its spooky ways with whispers, moody lighting and the occasional shadow, but by the third act I was so comfortable and complacent with the game that I just lost interest.
I will give a tentative thumbs-up for the story (still spoiler-free), which is intriguing enough that I may play more of the game just to see its conclusion. But again, the fact that I lost all interest points to an indication that the opening hook for the mystery was not strong enough for me to keep me invested. Most horror games either keep you engaged via mystery (Silent Hill, Amnesia) or survival (Resident Evil, Dead Space). Since Among The Sleep isn't about a baby struggling in post-apocalyptia, it has to rely on mystery. Which, unfortunately, isn't very mystifying; it's rather predictable and overall feels kinda cliche. But like I said, it is intriguing enough that I'm willing to play more in the future. And since most horror games aren't actually that complex in the story department anyway, I'm willing to let this aspect of the game go unpunished.
Gameplay-wise there's not much to talk about. It's a very standard exploration puzzler à la Amnesia. You find a locked door / staircase / see-saw, so you collect X keys to open said obstacle. It's not challenging, it's merely time-consuming, and the puzzles involved in getting the keys are mildly difficult at best, downright trivial at worst. This wouldn't be so bad if the story was interesting enough to carry the game on its own, and turn the game into more story-focus rather than gameplay-focus. However, as established previously the game isn't exactly strong in the story department, so Among The Sleep falls down on both fronts.
Apparently there is also a persistent enemy within the game that hunts you down in each level, but if there was I didn't encounter it. I didn't even realise there was an enemy, which is a failure of design if you ask me. You want a persistent, omni-present monster to hunt the players down and scare them? Great! So make sure the player is aware of the enemy's presence at most / all times. You can't have an oppressive, nemesis-type antagonist if it's so passive in its oppression.
Overall, I can't recommend Among The Sleep. I really WANT to, since it's such an fresh concept. It's also visually interesting, the level / audio design is pretty great, and the initial atmosphere is damn-near perfect. But the writing and gameplay design let it down for things to remain engaging, especially for a horror game. I would recommend this game when on a discount, but otherwise it's just not worth the regular asking price.