Crawling in the dark in Among the Sleep

My demo of Among the Sleep begins in complete darkness, the sound of rain pattering a window somewhere. A woman informs me that it's time for bed and begins to sing a lullaby. The music stops and I open my eyes. Rising above me are the unmistakeable bars of a crib. I am a child, and my mother is missing.

The next thing I see is my teddy bear slowly moving away from me – by itself. It slides to the back of the crib and up the bars. No, that's not quite right. It's being dragged out of the crib by some invisible force, which proceeds to carry it across the room and out the door.%Gallery-184161%
As I crawl after my teddy bear (let's call him Teddy), something knocks over the crib, sending me tumbling onto the floor. A loud, repetitive knocking noise is coming from an adjacent room, accompanied by sounds of anguish. Naturally, I head straight for them. In the next room is a washing machine, from which the cries seem to emanate. Unable to reach the buttons, I walk around the machine and pull the plug. The machine whirs to a stop and I open the door. It's Teddy! Someone put him in here! I pull him out and give him a hug (internally noting that the moment leaves me genuinely relieved).

I'm somewhat shocked when the bear speaks in a raspy voice, thanking me for saving his life. It only seems natural though. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child, of course my teddy bear talks. "We need to find your mother," he says, and so we set off through the dark house in search of her.

What's initially striking about Among the Sleep is its sense of scale. Most of us have forgotten, but the adult world is big. From the perspective of a child, doorways are gigantic, stairs are perilous, doorknobs unreachable. The latter lesson is taught via a simple puzzle. In order to open a closed door, first I have to climb onto something tall enough to allow me to grasp the knob. I actually didn't figure this out on my own, but have to be told by developer Krillbite Studio's Adrian Tingstad Husby. All I have to do push a nearby chair in front of the door. It's a very simple solution that should be obvious but, as an adult, it just didn't occur to me.

As I continue to search the house, I'm amazed at how everyday objects can seem so menacing. A television towers over me, pouring out static. Windows flash with lightning, floors creak. With the unsteady legs of an infant, walking is slow, intensifying the fear. Crawling, meanwhile, is much faster, and I find the proximity to the floor strangely comforting. I finally make it to my mother's room, uplifted by the sight of her body under the sheets.

Clambering up the side of the bed, I pull back the sheets – revealing nothing but empty space. The malevolent force in the house, whatever it is, seems to have heard me. The door handle across the room jiggles and I immediately crawl under the bed. Understand that I didn't have to do this – I wasn't prompted – it was pure instinct. It turns out I haven't forgotten all of my childhood lessons: When there's a monster at the door, you get under the bed.

The jiggling subsides and I eventually work my way over to the door and begin to wander back through the house. Another bolt of lightning crashes as I walk through the living room, illuminating a shadowy figure, presumably whatever took my mother and tried to drown Teddy. I follow the shadow's general direction, which leads me me to the basement stairway (naturally). Here, Teddy and I enter a portal and are transported to a strange new world. Swing sets float on islands in the sky and an ominous, kid-sized playhouse looms in the distance. The door is locked, but I'm able to slip Teddy through the window and he lets me in. Unfortunately, this is where my demo ends, triggering a trailer showcasing the otherworldly adventures to come in the final game.

Crawling in the dark in Among the Sleep
Husby tells me that Krillbite was inspired by Amnesia, and the influence is obvious. Among the Sleep is clearly rooted more in psychology than jump scares and gore. For sure, the premise is novel, but what's really impressive is how effectively Among the Sleep leverages fear through atmosphere and the innate physical limitations of a child. Perhaps even more impressive is that it made me love a teddy bear within the span of half an hour.

Krillbite will be launching a Kickstarter to fund the remaining development of Among the Sleep this April, with a planned PC release in the fourth quarter of 2013. Based on what I've played, it is absolutely one to keep an eye on.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.