No splash screens. No music. Just the dismal patter of rain. The main menu slowly fades into view: a monochrome image of a cliff side. Fog and rain shroud the environment. The silhouette of a man stands at the edge. His coat flaps in the strong wind. No title, just the options. Press “New Game” and the options fade out, blending the menu seamlessly into the game's introduction. The man approaches the edge, turns around, and falls backward into the abyss. Welcome to the world of Silence of the Sleep.
The man who has just fallen is Jacob Reeves, the protagonist. You wake up in a seemingly abandoned motel, remembering nothing of your life before the fall. From here the game commences properly.
The atmosphere of Silence of the Sleep rests somewhere between Silent Hill and Limbo. Its graphics are a mix of the decaying stylishness of the former with the German Expressionist influence of the latter. It makes use of sidescrolling panoramas, often depicting either gross, creepy locales like derelict houses and sewers or else jazzy, moody hot spots like high-end hotels and neon-lit bars. This perspective has been quite popular in recent indie horror games (Home, Lone Survivor, The Cat Lady and Claire to name just a few), yet this game holds its own in terms of uniqueness. The background designs are architecturally sophisticated - much more detailed than other games of its kind. The "decayed art deco" feeling of the visuals is quite striking and the uses of light, shadows, and vivid bursts of color are stunning in particular.
The characters are not traditionally animated. Rather the developers recorded and digitized real actors. One might fear that this would result in something looking like Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria, but thankfully the cheesiness of this approach is offset by the fact that every character is completely silhouetted (sans a few outstanding indicators – a blue tie, red hair, a white coat, etc.), masking the ugliness of digitization while simultaneously adding to Silence of the Sleep's mysteriousness.
Overall, Silence of the Sleep is worth checking out for the visuals alone. Other games may have a similar style, yet none quite match it.
Silence of the Sleep's soundtrack also adds beautifully to the atmosphere. An occasional jazzy brass tune, a somber piano melody here or there, an unexpected horrific screeching out of the dark – and always outstandingly moody. The one unfortunate flaw is that the music is sometimes ill-suited to the environment. A silly song might play when it should be serious or else a threatening song begins suddenly when there is no danger about. It is a relatively small issue, however, and music is yet another source for Silence of the Sleep's unique vibe.
The plot by which this game carries its atmosphere is a mixed bag. It is told vaguely and at an odd pace (the third chapter lasts about two hours while the final two take up less than one) with ultimately more questions than answers. This has been a pattern with horror-adventure games of late, especially the ones mentioned above, and this may have more cons than pros. It is frustrating to the player who seeks to solve a mystery that winds up never offering you enough clues. While it does produce a delightfully strange and dreamlike world, it distracts from the pieces of reality that the player needs to cling to. One is never completely sympathetic toward Jacob nor toward other characters because their characterization is so abstract. Above all, the main issue, however, is that one can never tell if the ambiguity is the result of conscious choice on the developer's part or just laziness.
Dialogue is often awkward, teetering between bizarrely amusing and cringe-worthy. The characters are each supplied with a decent amount of background each, yet their personalities are either one-note, absent, or inconsistent. Jacob belongs in the last category, as his manners will change from revealing aggravated frustration to delight and amusement at a moment's notice. It in a way adds to the overall strangeness of the game, but again one must ask – did the developer do this on purpose or was dialogue simply not the priority?
Beautiful graphics and haunting music. Vague plot and shaky dialogue. The make-or-break here is the gameplay. Silence of the Sleep does not disappoint so much as it confuses. Gameplay changes drastically between chapters. A great deal of the game is like Clock Tower. These parts demand that the player go back and forth through claustrophobic environments, hiding as they can from the eldritch abomination(s) stalking the premises, all the while gathering keys, passwords or tools to get where they need to go. It is quite horrifying the first time around, but excruciating by the last. By way of making this more challenging, the developer decided to make the locations bigger and the hiding places fewer between. Instead of a challenge though, this only adds frustration, with even longer backtracking sessions and boring periods of waiting for the enemies to pass by.
The puzzles do succeed in that they demand several modes of thought. Predominantly, Silence of the Sleep makes use of hidden object puzzles, password or key-locked door puzzles, dialogue puzzles and enemy avoidance puzzles. Some of the puzzles are rather nonsensical - a common flaw in adventure games - including one particularly aggravating bit in which the player has to get a car running. Not so that they can drive the car, no, but to turn on its headlights so a password is revealed in the nearby shadows. It makes little sense and is made worse by the fact that the hood of the car and the driver's side door are only accessible from certain directions, causing the player to traverse the area back and forth multiple times to make progress. The game is then manageable in small doses, but just too slow-paced and frustrating at key moments to really be compelling.
Most jarring of all gameplay shifts is the third chapter, which takes Jacob out of danger completely and puts him in a sort of psychiatric lodge. It is the longest and slowest chapter of the game, involving lots of walking around and talking to people. While at times there is an effective creepiness to the slightly-wrong feel of the lodge, one gets the sensation that the developer is just grasping at ideas at this point. It begins to feel like the game is throwing ideas at the dartboard, hoping something sticks. Certain bits of Silence of the Sleep are good, yes, but it does often feel disjointed.
Ultimately we are left with a game that offers many interesting and unique ideas but fails to pull them off effectively. The balance between aesthetics and enjoyable play are thrown off by the preference to the former. Silence of the Sleep proves that the developer, Jesse Makkonen, has something interesting and new to offer in terms of visuals, but not enough people will be drawn in without consistent storytelling and compelling gameplay to accompany it.
Buy Silence of the Sleep on Steam here.
This game was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on PC.
Silence of the Sleep offers intriguing visuals and an overall delightfully creepy atmosphere, but leaves much to be desired in terms of writing and gameplay.