Among the Sleep hands-on preview: I'm two and what is this

T.J. Hafer at

I've had my eye on Krillbite's Among the Sleep, the atmospheric horror game where you play as a toddler, for quite a while, and I finally got to play a demo at GDC last week. Granted, a brightly-lit expo hall isn't the best place to experience an atmospheric horror game, but the devs were on hand with some hardcore noise-cancelling headphones, so I was able to immerse myself just enough to get a feel for the shadow-shrouded, sound-centric gameplay.

Sound is a huge deal. The Krillbite guys described it as "almost 60%" of the game, hence the isolating headset that looked like something found on a decommissioned military base. In certain parts of the two levels I played, sound was the only indicator of where I was supposed to be headed.

The journey in Among the Sleep begins in your crib, enshrouded by nightfall. A stolen teddy bear calls you to action, guiding you through a darkened house in search of your mother. It is a quest made more desperate by the disquieting absence of any other signs of life... save for mysterious, humanoid shadows and objects that move on their own.

The tasks are simple: manipulate furniture and solve climbing puzzles to progress. It seemed like a creepier version of Dear Esther in the way it guided me along, but I'm told that there are failure states. I didn't come upon them myself, but I definitely caught a glimpse of things stalking in the darkness that didn't seem too friendly.

What struck me most about the aesthetics was that nearly everything could be explained by a child's overactive imagination. Nothing is so blatantly supernatural in the early portions that it couldn't simply be a skewed interpretation of a normal occurrence in moonlit suburbia, but it's all exaggerated enough to be genuinely unsettling.

It became less grounded the further I progressed, as the interior of a dark house through a foreboding prism gave way to a more overt dreamscape. By the time the demo ended, I was exploring a surrealist fantasy that was, strangely enough, less oppressive and more wondrous, while still maintaining a slightly brooding tone. The devs told me that the journey concludes "very far from home."

Among the Sleep will be crawling into our hard drives to bring us a sleepless night or two later this year, with a Kickstarter in April to help along the development. I look forward to playing it in its proper environment: in a dark room, alone. Until then, I've been given one of a small handful of codes that will supposedly be able to unlock something on the official site on August 8 this year. Check back then (if I'm still alive) to discover what is revealed.