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Among the Sleep review


Bear necessities

To help baby get through his nightmare in one piece, Among the Sleep gives you an companion early on in the adventure: a sentient, talking teddy bear. Teddy is a quizzical soul, and will often comment on your surroundings. Mechanically, he also acts as a glorified lamp – hug him to brighten up your home’s dimmest corners. At key junctures, Teddy also opens up a special door, which is powered by various objects of sentimental value your infant seeks out during the quest.

Even before baby’s home starts to devolve into a series of
spine-tingling, dreamt up mini horror houses, there’s a real power in
simply being dwarfed by your surroundings. A humble bedside cabinet
becomes a colossal structure which must be scaled by pulling out drawers
to create an impromptu ladder. A rumbling washing machine shakes the
screen with all the savage fury of an earthquake. An ornate grandfather
clock may as well be Big Ben; the deafening din of its hands syncing up
with a crackling storm outside. Every inch of this environment makes you
feel vulnerable.

Sadly, the care that’s gone into crafting
creepy kitchens and obscenely unwholesome playgrounds doesn’t quite
extend to the game’s pea-brained puzzles. No one would expect a toddler
to solve advanced calculus or wield a Portal gun, yet Among the Sleep’s
conundrums rarely evolve past anything more than simple fetch quests.
Most merely challenge you with either pushing around objects or forging
makeshift shortcuts; like placing tiny owl statues on a plank to create a
seesaw so you can clamber to higher ground.

It doesn’t help
that the action stutters more than Porky Pig. Despite making decidedly
fugly use of the Unity engine, Among the Sleep suffers from regular
frame hitches almost every time you enter a fresh environment. A smooth
60fps is hardly needed for languid exploration, but the constant frame
rate woes can really drag you out of the experience.

Not that
you’ll be concerned with technical hiccups when you’re being chased by
an abomination who makes Medusa look like Jessica Rabbit. A fiendish
apparition stalks baby through later sections of the game, and the fear
induced by these fraught hide-and-seek skirmishes is almost akin to a
junior Alien: Isolation. These predatory sequences are smartly rationed,
but impactful nonetheless. Baby vs Blair Witch wannabe is hardly a fair
match-up, after all.

Jump scares aside, Among the Sleep
suffers pacing problems. Even though I finished the game in just north
of two hours, the action can drag. If you’re accustomed to kicking World
War 3 in the face with Call of Duty on a regular basis, the meagre
objectives on show here prove jarring. Forget saving the world from
nuclear catastrophe; all baby has to do figure out how he’s going to get
a stuffed elephant back. Effective sound design helps foster an
involving sense of underlying discomfort, but when all you’re really
doing is moving stools for 60% of your adventure, it’s hard to get
overly excited.

Kudos to the ending, though. Without
venturing too far into Spoiler Town, Among the Sleep packs in a quietly
effective, if hardly revelatory, finale. I went in expecting very little
from the game’s climax and was instead treated to a scene which left me
with lingering unease.

Among the Sleep is a curious,
sometimes successful look into the twisted dreams that can plague
childhood. While blighted by tech troubles, awkward movement and overly
simply puzzles, a daunting world and a skill for conjuring real
vulnerability make it unlike anything else currently on this console
generation.

This game was reviewed on PS4.



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