As a fan of the genre, it pains me to say that this year has been abysmal when it comes to horror titles. From the absolute crap-fests such as Walden and the Werewolf, to simple, uninspired drudges like Daylight . . . this year was a mess. With that in mind, when I was first made aware of a little title by the name of Silence of the Sleep, a relatively unknown 2-D, story-driven horror title developed by one lone person . . . I was skeptical. The word I will use is skeptical.
Having had the time to play through, however, that skepticism surrounding the title was rendered entirely unjustified. Against all odds, this unknown little indie not only justifies its place on the shelf, it proves itself potentially the first truly noteworthy horror title of the year. One of the best in recent memory, in all honesty.
From the outset, Silence of the Sleep comes off as more an atmosphere piece than anything, with the bulk of its gameplay consisting of little more than simple logic puzzles and a bit of exploration. As you proceed through the game, however, the puzzles ramp up, the game requiring more and more dedication from the player, and eventually a simple, if unique and entirely serviceable stealth mechanic comes into play, cementing the idea that there is an actual game beneath the surprisingly engaging story and atmosphere-dripping world on show.
The game is a relatively simple one, though one that still manages to challenge the player. It grows its mechanics as you progress, keeping a solid sense of pacing throughout its ten-or so hour experience, making damn sure to keep your interest for the entire ride.
Every good horror game needs a sense of danger to it, and that danger comes in the form of shadow-like abominations that roam the halls along with you. While relatively easy to avoid them early on, encounters quickly become a game of cat and mouse. The player is tasked with checking hallways before passing through doors, hiding behind objects in order to avoid detection, manipulating lights as a form of distraction as you try to sneak past and once all that inevitably fails you . . . running. A lot of intense chases are going to be had, requiring quick thinking on part of the player in order to not find themselves cornered, awaiting imminent death.
I do want to touch on that world created again, being that that, obviously, is an integral part of the experience and the overall hook to any horror game. As previously stated, SotS is a 2-D sort of experience, reminiscent of yesteryear's fantastic Lone Survivor. True for that title, as is true here, that lone developer, Jesse Makkonen (no relation), proves that a masterfully created world, even one of horror, can be had in 2-D, and can be just as engaging as any found in the 3-D space. The world is tense, unforgiving and entirely grotesque at times. The nightmares that inhabit the world hit, and they hit hard. It's a world where a single wrong step ends it all for you. Requiring that you sit back, acknowledge what you did wrong, and then address the situation in a different manner. It's a thinking man's experience, which is not what I was really expecting going in. Not that it's a negative thing, to say the least.
While I never touch much on story, I can say that SotS is a thoroughly engaging tale. One that will keep you guessing throughout, providing even more questions with every answer. The writing holds solid throughout, and the payoff at the end does does justice to the story.
Vague, I know . . . but aren't I always?
To say Silence of the Sleep left me impressed is an understatement. I went in expecting maybe an interesting tale and some disturbing imagery. I was not expecting it to prove itself as solid an experience as it ended up being. For being a one man developer, Makkonen has proven himself talented in all aspects of the game's design. Strong art and sound design, solid writing, an engaging story. And even its non-traditional mechanics held-up well in the 2-D space, which is impressive in and of itself.
Silence of the Sleep is the essential horror title to be had at the moment. As the debut title, and the work of only one individual, it's something truly noteworthy.