For art, a game developer hires an artist. For music, the developer hires a composer. For programming, they hire a programmer. They are specialized in what they do, and that’s how a game comes to look, sound and play decently.
‘Fuck that’, Jesse Makkonen thought, I’ll do everything myself.
‘But Jesse, you have never developed a game before, are you sure you can pull that off?’
‘Sure I can.’
So Jesse did, and he succeeded. He made Silence of the Sleep, an unpolished mess at times, but ultimately a unique product that’s worth the buy. In fact, you are actually best off playing this game without knowing what you’re getting yourself into.
You play as Jacob Reeves. A man with a name as dark as his demise. When you start the game, you will see Jacob throws himself into ‘the blackness’. He lost his reason to live, so he put an end to it. At least, that’s what he thought – the universe doesn’t let Mr. Reeves get away so easily.
The first thing that strikes you about Silence is its unique character art. Silence of the Sleep looks like a giant shadow play, as the only thing separating living things from the background is their silhouette, and on key characters, a single coloured feature.
Silence of the Sleep is a side-scroller (with some 3D elements), wherein the player must guide Jacob’s silhouette through surreal corridors and haunted areas. To enter doors on the sides of a hallway, you have to turn Jacob towards the door with W or S. Though it looks beautiful seeing the shadowy figure move, it doesn’t work as smooth as it should. The movement can make for some clunky situations when it isn’t immediately clear that you have to turn towards something to interact with it.
Controls aside, Silence of the Sleep is psychological horror in its purest form. It switches between genuinely terrifying parts and calming sequences to let you gather your senses. Environments are plastered with Jesse Makkonen’s beautiful and gritty digital art, and brought alive by fantastic lighting and particle effects. The silhouettes layered on top of these enviroments give the world a bold and distinct look.
This eye catching art is further complemented by equally brilliant audio, making me wonder what Makkonen’s specialist field is. When you find yourself in a cozy and non-hostile environment, art and audio will clearly reflect it. This makes the transition from a safe haven to a bloody, haunting, and dark world such a punch in the gut when it happens. Hearing a baby’s scream morph into a devilish death moan is one of those small details that strongly contributes to the terrifying atmosphere.
Silence of the Sleep doesn’t hold your hand, ever. At some moments, this can strengthen the horror experience – like for instance, on my first stroll into hell. “To hide, walk behind the boxes and hold your breath by keeping the circle inside the square.” That’s what the game told me. “Why should I hide?”, I thought. “Come on game, help me more! What am I supposed to do here?”
Nothing. Then a horrifying sound emerged, and it closed in. I turned to the door and hid behind the boxes in the room. The screen turned red and the bass of a heartbeat blasted through. Then, the monster came into the room. It moved towards the boxes, where Jacob was hiding. It stopped for a moment, laughed hysterically, and then glided away as fast as it had come.
This lack of guidance does more than raise the tension of Silence, though, it also makes progressing through the game harder than it should be. There is, for instance, a place wherein about eight people are scattered through a network of interiors. You don’t get any hint of where to go, while only one of those people has a dialogue that leads to progress. These moments aren’t rare, and you should be prepared to cope with a lot of long searches for the right item or path. On occasion, the game will throw a feature or minigame at you, without explaining anything, not even its controls. This flaw gets worse with every chapter into the game, and it causes a lot of moments of being stuck. The first player to write an extensive guide through Silence of the Sleep will therefore find a lot of love.
Next to this, the game also harbours some consistency issues. There is an exclamation mark that shows up above Jacob’s head when he can interact with something, but in some cases, it just doesn’t appear. This leads to some frustrating moments. The game also features a door-listening mechanic, a peeking mechanic, and a mechanic that makes Jacob describe what he sees. As if that isn’t enough, you can hear hostiles at the other side of the door without using the listening feature. It all feels like the developer couldn’t make a choice about which features to implement, and as a result, did everything a little bit.
Silence of the Sleep is a messy game, but it’s definitely a good one. Its pacing is picture perfect – it creates a feeling of safety, and then takes it away, just before you get too comfortable.
Within its engrossing atmosphere, Silence of the Sleep will confuse you. It toys with the unknown and throws it at you from every angle, and the narrative plays a key role in that. You will spend a lot of time questioning everything. There is a man that knows where you are, but he doesn’t really help you. There are people around that have been stuck in the world, but there is always something awry about them. I wanted to know what was going on with Jacob, and that kept me hooked.
Silence of the Sleep is at times unpolished and buggy, but the story, atmosphere, and excellent production values more than make up for that. This is a game that can pull you from your dark room into it’s darker world. If you’re a fan of psychological horror, it would be a shame to miss out on this experience.