"... its main draw lies in an arresting ambiance and compelling tale."
The horror genre has consistently held a firm grip on the indie scene, with surprise hits such as Slender: The Eight Pages, SCP — Containment Breach, and more recently, Outlast. Silence of the Sleep, developed and published solely by Jesse Makkonen, promises a psychological horror experience. But with horror games being a dime a dozen, does this endeavor stand out?
You see a shadowed figure walk to the edge of a cliff and look down. He turns around, heaves a final sigh, and lets himself fall over the ledge. Surprisingly, this person turns out to be the game's main character, Jacob. He awakens from his fall unhurt and confused. Remembering nothing except those last few moments, he ventures to figure out his current location and past. As the game progresses, you discover bits and pieces of Jacob's life, eventually culminating in a big reveal at the end.
While the story results in a satisfying ending, a lot of information is withheld until the final chapter, making many of the experiences in the earlier chapters baffling. A second or third play through may yield more insight. For the most part, Jacob's past barely matters throughout the game. Only at the end does he recall important situations with certainty. Some aspects of his journey are also left unexplained, leaving you wanting. A surprising number of recurrent characters exist, but unfortunately only reveal snippets of their lives. Despite these minor grievances, Jacob's tale has ample emotional appeal and a poignant resolution.
Though Silence of the Sleep markets itself as a horror game, those components only feature in about half the chapters. Alternating between horror and adventure, the game presents an interesting juxtaposition. One moment, Jacob is hiding behind cardboard boxes from a terrifying creature, and the next moment he's trying to coax a bunny out from under a bed. The continuity lies in figuring out what Jacob needs to do in order to progress to the next chapter, and the drive to find out the why, when, and how of his past is often more than sufficient motivation.
As Jacob stumbles through his amnesia, he needs to solve various puzzles to proceed further in his quest. The puzzles are self-contained within each chapter with minimal inventory usage. In the survival horror chapters, they can be brutally annoying, as hiding is a requirement — I was stuck fishing for an item in a bloody bathtub for perhaps half an hour, all while taking "breaks" to scramble behind a cardboard box. I frequently found myself just hanging out in locations to await a monster passing by so that I could proceed, occasionally with enough time to leave my computer and get a drink. The adventure chapters lack difficulty, and could have used something to give them some more punch. They are an experience more akin to a visual novel, though chapter one had a few intriguing puzzles. The survival horror chapters possess many industrious challenges, but I think they would have stood on their own without the excessive monsters and perhaps a few scares.
The game exists on a two-dimensional plane with three-dimensional possibilities; i.e. Jacob can walk left and right, but also face up or down to interact with doors and items. This system causes some issues, because in order to face up/down, Jacob needs to already be facing left or right. So, if Jacob exits a door facing up, and wants to face back down to re-enter, the player must enter left/right + down, which can be annoying when trying to rush away from a monster. Jacob runs if you hold shift and move, but he barely sprints before slowing back down to a trot, frequently before even covering half a room, making escaping tedious. Controls are definitely the game's weakest link, and unfortunately for its survival horror sections, it really affects immersion. The unintuitive inventory system gives Jacob one selected item or the newest item as active, which he will automatically use to interact with any object if possible. Players can scroll through existing items to choose one in particular, but unless the inventory key is selected, there is no way to know what is active. Certainly, the controls have room for improvement, but they suffice once you get used to them.
On the flip side, the atmosphere in Silence of the Sleep is fantastic. With one of the best music scores I've heard in a while, it runs the gamut from haunting, discordant pieces to smooth jazz and even a couple of upbeat tunes. The lack of voice acting may be viewed as a detriment, but to the game's credit, it works exceedingly well to highlight the isolation and confusion Jacob experiences. The backgrounds, particularly for the horror chapters, give a decrepit, unnatural vibe without going over the top with the blood. The adventure sections are polished and markedly friendlier than their horror counterparts, though they still exude surrealism. A few backdrops are revisited over the course of the game, and each distinctly stands out according to Jacob's progression. With such careful design, it's hard to even tell where layers are repeated, even though it must have been done for a project of this scale. Characters are represented by recognizable shadows, with occasional color accents, such as red hair, to distinguish between them. Like his past, Jacob is simply a black shadow, with no identifiable attributes.
To say Silence of the Sleep is just a horror game would severely mischaracterize it. Considering the game is a one-man show by Jesse Makkonen, its positives far outweigh the weaknesses. As a game that contains both horror and adventure attributes, its main draw lies in an arresting ambiance and compelling tale. Those who go in expecting regular horror fare will be pleasantly surprised.