Among the Sleep isn’t new to the world of gaming, having come out in May 2014 for PC and in December 2015 on PlayStation 4, both digitally. In fact, next month, both the PC and PS4 versions will be getting boxed retail copies, if physical media is your preferred way to play (it’s definitely mine). The Xbox One version of the game had been announced, but never confirmed for an actual date. Well, until recently. Now, the game is here, and XB1 players can finally experience the critically acclaimed horror game from Krillbite Studio.
If you know me and have spoken about games with me over the last few years, you’d know that Among the Sleep is a game I was looking forward to for a very long time. As a typically non-PC gamer (by choice), I often have to sit on the sidelines when great looking games get announced and released on PC without console versions in the cards. Luckily, this was not one of those games, and I just had to bide my time before I could jump in. If you’ve paid attention to me over the last year plus, you’d know that excitement was still there in 2015 when the PS4 version was going to release. They cut it really close, but I finally got my hands on it and played through the game earlier this year. You’d also know my thoughts on the game if you are one of the ones who follow me. If you haven’t, now’s the time I’ll get into it for you, as well as see how the XB1 version holds up compared to the PS4 version.
Throughout the story we play as a toddler, who is just celebrating his 2nd birthday as the game starts. Eating what may perhaps be his first taste of cake, the family gets a visit and his new best friend arrives as a birthday gift: a teddy bear named, naturally, Teddy. Once the package is introduced, we’re whisked away to our room to mosey around the environment, playing with our old toys, while getting to know our new one. Teddy moves around, taking in his new home and getting the lay of the land. Eventually, you hunker down for the night and go to sleep. This is where the true nightmare begins…
Some time during the night, you get woken up, and as that happens, your crib is toppled over. You’re OK, but, being the inquisitive little tyke you are, and guided by Teddy, you venture out to find mom to make sure everything is OK. What you eventually find is anything but. As you make your way through the house, we’re looking around for mom, opening doors and hearing scary noises, but not understanding what’s going on. Once we make it downstairs, the creepy factor is ratcheted up and we eventually get a glimpse of the monster we have to avoid for the rest of the game. The further we get, the further we get away from home.
And from there you can gather that the child’s imagination will take him (and us) places that only a child can come up with when he’s scared. And that’s one thing the devs do very well here. Everything is told through the eyes of the toddler, so what is obvious to us, definitely isn’t to him. For example, as most kids do, he has blocks with letters that he can recognize as actual letters. When he gets out in the wild away from those, any wording that may be on something looks like an alien language to him, because, of course it would. We would be able to read it, but we aren’t playing as ourselves, we’re playing as the baby. Those little touches are everywhere in the game. The toys and images that you have littered across your room and beyond will become avenues for the worlds created in our mind as we search for mom with Teddy.
A bit more on the “nice touch” front is when you pause the game, the menu screen is the baby covering his eyes, as if the world goes away and pauses when you hide, just like we all probably thought as children. A final one I’ll point out, because you should find most on your own for that added effect, is that, being a horror game, you’d naturally get a lot of dark areas. Well, then we’d need a flashlight, but a baby won’t be able to use one… Never fear, Teddy is here!! If we hug him tight, the world around us glows because we’re “safe” and Teddy will “protect” us!! Don’t lie, you had the same feeling as a kid, too. I can’t be the only one who felt this way when he hugged his Curious George stuffed animal.
Once we make it out of the house and into the backyard, the world gets really crazy. Imaginations are running wild, and we find ourselves in little house that acts as a portal to other “worlds”. Worlds we’ll need to access by collecting an item from a memory of mom. There are 4 items we need to find, meaning we have 4 worlds to explore. Teddy is here, not just for comfort, but also to help us as a player along on what to do to find these items and how to use them. He can talk to us, but he’s mostly in the dark as to what’s going on, just like we are. Most of the story is told without speaking, and it does a really good job at that. It’s gathered through the environments and what you go through, both literally and figuratively throughout the game. If you’re paying attention to it all, you’ll be able to figure out that the kid isn’t just making this stuff up because he has a wild mind. He’s got some reasons for it, and when it comes down to it, the reasons are pretty sad.
Graphically the game is nicely stylized. As mentioned (maybe too much), we’re seeing everything through a 2 year old’s eyes and mind, so the art style used I feel does a great job at being grounded, while giving off just enough of a cartoon-y vibe that it works really well for the story being told. And once we start to get to the more dark, scary, and moody moments, the overall appearance holds up well. Even the animations for Teddy and yourself are pretty good. Since it’s first person, we only see Teddy and ourself a small amount of time moving around, but when we do, nothing looks off or awkward, and one of the main mechanics is for us to climb up on things, as young kids love to do, and the movements for that feel appropriate and smooth as we do it. The shadow and lighting systems in place are also really nicely done, giving everything an even more sinister look about them.
The sound in the game varies from ambient noise to the child breathing and grunting (cute sounds, by the by, and I wish there was more of that) to daunting music and effects, to downright hair-raising screeches and growls. It runs the gamut of horror, and I always felt the tension in a level, even when the ambient sounds were in full effect, because just around the corner I knew something was going to spike somewhere. The music here is a nice companion to the effects, and even plays a little role in the story for the child. Creepy atmosphere does well with creepy sounds, and we definitely get that here. The little voice acting we have is also done really well, and as a side note, I enjoyed the optional developer commentary tracks that have been included.
As for game play, we’re mostly on fetch quests for items, whether that be to progress the story to get to other worlds, to collect items within levels to be able to pass obstacles, or just as collectibles in general for Achievements, that’s the main driving force to move forward. Whether you enjoy that sort of thing is really up to you, but I never found myself tiring of it. Perhaps it’s the setting and great atmosphere that countered that. Maybe it’s the way the story was being told that quelled that feeling. Hell, maybe it was because the game is relatively short and can be completed in 3-4 hours. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but regardless, fun was had throughout my second (and first) attempts.
Now, collection isn’t the only thing we do here. As I said earlier, climbing is a big part, but so is grabbing and moving things around. Kids love to touch stuff, and do that we shall. Moving chairs, grabbing toys, throwing objects, etc. All things we need to do to progress the story. It’s a bit awkward at first, but, once you get the way the physics work, it’s all pretty simple from there.
As far as the big differences between the PS4 and XB1 versions? Well, there weren’t many, but there are definitely some. A cool one is that the XB1 version has a bunch of new pajamas for us to wear, including a couple Xbox branded onesies. They’re pretty cute, so right from the start we can throw a new coat of paint on the kid and drive him around in it. One of the things that is a bummer, though, is that the game’s frame rate stutters more here than it does on PS4. Now, the PS4 does as well, but it happens more often on XB1. However, neither system’s frame rate ever got in my way or caused me to get any more than a little annoyed, so take that for what you will. It never hindered my enjoyment in any other way than to notice it enough to report it. Of course, you may be less tolerant than I am, so you’ll have to judge that fact with your own interests in mind. The same downside goes to the graphical prowess of the XB1 vs. PS4. The PS4 looks just a tiny bit more clear, with the lighting and shadows just a little bit more defined. Again, this is not saying the XB1 version looks bad. They both look really good, there’s just a slight edge with the PS4 version, and I would wager you’d never know the difference if someone didn’t tell you or you didn’t play both versions. Whichever one you choose, you’ll be in for a good time in these areas.
When we’re talking about the Achievements in Among the Sleep, this is another indie game that leans on the easy side. You can get all 10 for the completion in 1 game, but keep in mind you’ll need to search out the collectibles for many of them. Again, as always, I’m torn on loving easy 1000/1000 games, but also loving a large quantity of challenges to meet. You’ll need to judge how you feel about this stuff for yourself, but overall, this one is pretty simple to accomplish.
It’s no secret I really enjoyed this game. Among the Sleep is a really clever take on the first person horror genre. I don’t know how they came up with this idea, but I’m glad they did, because it worked really well, from the story, the atmosphere, all the way through, you can tell the hard work that went into getting this idea to its final form. Once you make it to the end, and see how the story plays out, hell, even while working your way through, if you’re picking up on the clues littered throughout the game, this is a story that ultimately tugs at your heartstrings while giving you the horror it sets out to unnerve us with. Oh, and make sure to play the baked in DLC prologue after you beat the main story. It’ll give a bit more of the gameplay mixed with some back story that helps flesh out the family a little bit. Yes, the game is on the shorter side, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for with heart, and sometimes that’s what can turn a mediocre game into a good one, and this is definitely a good one.