My wife calls this the “freaky baby game” and not because of the baby. Everything about this game is unnerving and it all adds up to an enjoyable experience in fear-inducing games. My wife hates it when I play this in the dark cause she keeps having to run in and check that my screams are caused by the game and not something terrible… like a stubbed toe. Those are horrifying.
If you come into this game off the adrenaline high that profoundly horrifying games like Amnesia produce, you will not be enthused. I have to admit, I couldn’t play Amnesia. It was that fucking freaky for me. I quit playing only about an hour into the game, and I hadn’t encountered any enemies yet. Among the Sleep was a much more accessible game for those who don’t want to pour hours into complex puzzles, creeping through terrifying dark castles and losing your mind. Horror-lite, is the best term for this game, and I found it rather enjoyable.
Among the first elements of the game that you notice is the fact that you are a goddamn 2-year-old. Your mom has you in a high chair, she’s feeding you cake, you play with a ball and you have as much control of yourself as a drunk muppet. Not to disparage the game, it controls beautifully. Toddlers on the other hand are called toddlers because they don’t have the basics of biomechanical locomotion down, yet. Look down at your body, and you notice a tiny, onesie-clad body that takes haphazard steps. Environmental manipulation is difficult at times, too. You are a baby, after all. Your tiny little hands grasp uncertainly at objects. It is almost adorable. Except for the fact that you are scared out of your shit trying to rationalize the world around you. In the very beginning of the game your crib gets thrown across the room, spilling you onto the floor. You spend some time crawling around, which lets you hide from foes and get into tight places, but you can stand up on your little baby-legs. When you do, you move slowly, but you can run briefly before stumbling over into the crawling position. Frequently, the game makes use of this by making you want to run so badly, but you can’t, you know, being a fucking baby and all. Not exactly a Kenyan track star. Also, you can hear the tiny little baby breaths and your character hides in the dark, sucking in air like a noisy little vacuum. Another feature that highlights the fact that you are a baby is the esc screen. Hit escape and you bring up your tiny baby hands to cover your face.
Early on you realize there is trouble in paradise, and being sensitive to everything around you, it shows. Babies don’t know much, so they have to experience the world around them in terms of emotions. Thus, when something scary happens, your screen gets dark and twitchy, like it’s being chewed on by a langolier. This occurs early on when mommy answers the door. You hear a male voice and then mommy starts yelling. That’s when the screen gets all ugly, but mommy soon comes back and it’s all ok again. She brings a present to you, which you get at later no thanks to your mother, and inside it is the scariest toy ever. Your travelling companion is a terrifying possessed teddy bear. At one point he plays with your train set and hides your elephant from you. But I know the fucking truth! That little bastard is possessed by a dark entity bent on turning you into a ruthless serial killer! Either way, teddy is apparently your only weapon. When you get scared, you have to hug him and he glows in the dark, like a carebear stare that is less powerful and gives your position away to enemies.
<THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!> Since this game only came out a few months ago, I have to do this.
While playing this game, you notice some really interesting tidbits. There truly is something sinister lying just beneath the surface, and it isn’t just the spooky ambient soundtrack. Anyone who watches Grimm knows that what people thought were stories are often used to represent something more sinister. Although it might not be the fact that werewolves exist, fairytales like Grimm’s fairytales were actually mechanisms used to rise children in a time where they could have been ripped apart by wolves just outside of town. No one would have noticed for a good few hours either. So rather than saying “don’t go into the woods or you’ll get ripped apart by wild animals” they would probably say “don’t go in the woods or you’ll be eaten by a witch!” This is much easy to offer to children than, you know, sheer abject terror. This game uses the same vehicle to convey and otherwise occluded backstory. Some guy brings a wrapped package to the door on your birthday and gets into a fight with mommy? Yea, that was dad. I guess they were having some kind of issues, so daddy doesn’t live at home anymore. Later you go through this level with paintings on the walls, one of which features a woman and a well. As you approach it changes from the woman coming out of the swamp toward the well, her standing at the well and then her drinking deeply from the well with water running down her dress.
Toward the end of the game, you see mommy drinking from bottles (which litter the floor in another level) and she turns into a monster. This made my jaw drop. So apparently mommy is also an alcoholic and having some serious issues. Considering your character stumbles out of a closet at the end of the game, I have to assume this means that the whole game is basically the result of child neglect by a irresponsible bitch that wants to keep the child away from a potentially loving father. This is a little on the rough side, since a lot of single mothers work hard to ensure that their children get the best they can provide. But no one is perfect, and some people outright deserve to be dropped off a cliff.
This game takes a real big adult issue and shrinks it down to a baby size. It is really deeply affecting, especially since at the end, your mother is the one who rips the arm off your teddy bear, and you character still starts rubbing her head as she sits crying on the kitchen floor. I cried a little, since this one hits a bit too close to home, having had a number of friends growing up who experienced something like this. All told, this game is a true horror story that focuses more on the story elements and leaves those “terror from the darkest wilds” elements to more drawn out titles. After all, how much can you really tell about the story of a baby?
Among the Sleep is a great title, but the thing that really got my gaul up about this title is the number of startle scares it gets out of you. I mean you creep around a corner, BAM! chair flies at you. Turn around and something behind you is moving by itself, or something flies out of a random hatch you didn’t know about. STOP FUCKING DOING THAT! Man, you’re gonna scare the shit right out of me! I guess that is their fucking plan, though. Bastards.