By Brian M. Sammons
Hello, my ever-faithful fellow cultists of all things creepy, weird and strange. I, like Big Daddy C him/her/itself, was pretty much dead for a while, but I was still dreaming. Always dreaming.
Well, the stars are right and I’m awake once more. I’ve got a whole gaggle of ghastly goodies to tell you about. So if you’ve got a few bucks left in your wallet, you’re going to want to toss a few at these beauties. Each was very nice without a hint of naughty (Yes, I am going to run this metaphor into the ground) and should be on the wishlist of any lover of the weird and spooky.
Right now, I am going to start off with a sleeper (ha) hit, or at least it should be, called Among the Sleep. This is a first person video game available for pretty much any game platform you could use: PC, PS4, Xbox One, and even Mac and Linux. This is a smallish title and is sold digitally, so you will have to download it. It’s not found in any store, but that’s nothing but a good thing in my book. Developed by Norwegian game designers, Krillbite, this game was a labor of love. Development began in 201. The company had to get help from Norsk Film Institute and then direct from the people with a very successful Kickstarter campaign to finish it. I guess, unless you are making yet another “triple A” run-and-gun frag-fest, it’s hard to get funding. That’s a damn shame, but I digress.
The idea behind Among the Sleep is a unique one, which is sadly another hard thing to get funding for in this age of annual game sequels, but now I’m really beating a dead horse, so that’s the last time I’ll bring this up. While this is a first person game, it’s not the typical shooter. In fact, if your character picked up any game, it would be weird, and very creepy, as here, you play as a two-year-old toddler. Yes, you’re a wee little kid. After you’re put in your crib one night by your mother, those wooden bars can’t keep you prisoner for long. You quickly free yourself and begin to crawl, toddle and explore around your darkened home. Your only ally is you warm, fuzzy and talking Teddy Bear, who can give some direction and provide comfort, and light, when squeezed in your arms.
This game can fall into the camp that has largely earned the pejorative classification of “walking simulator.” These are games that are high in atmosphere and setting, but low in what most gamers call action. Pretty much, you go from A to B to C, exploring the world as you move through it at a relatively slow (“walking”) pace. You interact more with objects than you do with other characters and most of the “gaming” comes from solving logic puzzles to advance the plot.
If these types of games do have enemies in them, there is usually no direct combat with them. Your path to victory lies not in killing your foes, but in running, hiding, circumventing, and outsmarting them. For this reason alone, these types of games are perfect for the horror genre, as blasting baddies like zombies in the face with a shotgun is fun and all, but not all that frightening. But facing off against horrors that can’t be killed, only avoided and run from, ratchets up the terror and tension quite a bit. So, if you are tired of the latest action shooter masquerading as a horror game because things occasionally jump at the screen and go BOO! at you, then these type of games will be a refreshing change. I think you’ll get a kick out of Among the Sleep.
In this one, you will explore a weird and spooky world as realized by a child’s overactive imagination. There are obstacles to overcome and puzzles to solve, and having the perspective set about two feet from the floor does put a new spin on things. As does the child mindset. As an adult, you can occasionally get creeped out by random things in your home when the lights go out, but for a very young child, everything become fanciful, and sometimes frightening, when it’s dark. Among the Sleep utilizes that toddler mindset wonderfully with its setting, puzzles, and even a wicked witch-like stalker that must be avoided at all times. There is also a good story to be had here and a neat mystery to be solved as to why our two-year-old hero sees, hears and runs from the things that he does. This story is unraveled slowly-but-effectively and never once feels the need to beat you over the head to make sure you get it. It’s nice when a game/movie/book has faith in its audience, and doesn’t assume they’re all completely idiotic and need to be spoon-fed everything. Sadly, that’s rare, but that’s another dead horse to be beaten on another day.
Final Verdict: Among the Sleep is not Lovecraftian at all. I mean, come on, how many two-year-olds can read, let alone read Lovecraft? This game is all about the terrors for a child’s mind and it evokes that wonderfully. There is also a great art style and tone that swings back and forth between whimsical and frightening. That’s no mean feat to pull off. If you are looking for a fun, and sometimes spooky, adventure game told from a different point of view, then you will want to play Among the Sleep. While it might sound like a bit of hyperbole, it is 100% truthful here: There really is no other game quite like Among the Sleep.