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Among the Sleep alpha impressions

Over the past few years the indie space has become a playground for the purity of horror. While big budgets titles have increasingly moved away from the genre, smaller development studios have been coming up with new and terrifying ways to unease us and send a sense of dread cursing through our veins. For a child, those fears can come from the mundane, like household items shrieking to life, or a vivid imagination left to run wild. Among the Sleep preys on this terror, putting you in the tiny body of a two-year old child in an oversized world full of unknown dangers. It’s another example of an indie development studio exploring fear from a completely anomalous angle.

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As the alpha begins you find yourself lying in your cot, toys spinning above your head as your mother sings you an enchanting lullaby. You feel a sense of familiarity, even if you might not remember this puerile part of your life. There’s comfort in hearing your mother’s voice as you drift into slumber, losing yourself to the consuming darkness… and then she’s gone. Suddenly, that calmness is disrupted as your cot is hurled onto its side by some unknown, malevolent force. Unhurt, you crawl out on all fours, exploring your bedroom, filled with soft toys and a small, wooden rocking horse swaying by the window, while the cabinets and wardrobes tower above you.

Once you leave your room you’re faced with your first obstacle: a closed door. The handle is too high for your infantile reach, immediately exhibiting your limitations. Luckily a stool sits nearby; you forcefully drag it towards the door, your brittle bones struggling behind its weight. You pull yourself onto your feet, clambering upright with a sense of unease. Wobbling and swaying from side to side, your grubby hands reach forward as you heave yourself up onto the stool, grabbing at the door handle to pry it open. It feels clumsy and apprehensive but that’s exactly how controlling a two-year old should feel.

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You slowly clamber down a staircase, bumping into and knocking things over as you constantly oscillate from side to side, unsure of your footing. Your basic motor skills haven’t fully development yet, after all, giving you the odd feeling that you’re almost trapped inside your own body and its physical constraints. And it works too, much like it did for the genre’s connoisseurs and their tank controls. Only this time it makes sense – and controls better too. You’re ungainly and helpless and that’s a terrifying feeling, lending weight to the concept and its inherent horror. Other, similar platforming puzzles to the initial door conundrum are sprinkled throughout this brief glimpse of Among the Sleep, but it remains to be seen how much the mechanics will evolve and deviate from its fairly basic beginnings.

It’s immediately obvious, however, how much of an effect the atmosphere will have on proceedings. Being alone in a dark house comes with its own trepidations already, especially when you’re an infant. There’s a constant sense of dread seeping into every aspect of its design, from the foreboding groans of the house, to the startling flashes of lighting outside a window, or the ambient noise that always sounds like something’s creeping up right behind you. And that’s before you find yourself trapped in your mother’s bedroom as something rattles on the door handle, trying desperately to get inside. The only thing you can do is what any small child would do: hide under the bed until the terror subsides. In moments like this Among the Sleep recalls the perennial Amnesia: The Dark Descent, presenting a helpless protagonist pursued by the terrifying unknown.

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After all, our own imagination is a much more effective tool than simply spelling everything out with monsters and jump scares. A child’s overactive imagination is more powerful than any other, and it seems as though Among the Sleep may tap into this. Towards the end of the alpha you find yourself transported to a surrealist dreamscape, perhaps as a way to escape whatever horrors have possessed the real world – if it even is real. The organically designed, modern house replaced with floating islands, rickety bridges and a crooked cabin that can only be opened by the sentient teddy bear you picked up earlier in your journey. This represents the only time he makes himself useful so it will be intriguing to see what kind of relationship he has with our pint-sized protagonist.

It certainly leaves you wanting more, and it will be interesting to see where Among the Sleep goes from here. It’s a wholly original concept and we can only hope it extends beyond that, building on its solid foundations to take advantage of its protagonist’s unique standing. At this early stage the mechanics have yet to deviate from a few climbing puzzles but there’s certainly promise, and the atmosphere is already suitably creepy, evoking some of the genres best while adding its own aberrant twist.

Fortunately, Among the Sleep recently hit its Kickstarter goal so we can look forward to plenty of frights before the end of the year.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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