Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel

by Seb Pines


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1-5 of 5

It was a graveyard smash, June 8, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

It’s fitting that my randomization gave me Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel right after The Hole Man, since they’re alike in a lot of ways: they’re both choice-based games that work something like funhouses, letting the player wander an environment that’s densely packed with characters enacted their own stories, with the protagonist choosing which to get swept up in. And yet, what a difference a genre makes – this approach is charming when you’re ambling around a lightly-philosophical fantasyland, but can feel pretty silly when the operative tropes are those of horror fiction. The eponymous motel packs in more monsters per square inch than Call of Cthulhu’s worst Mythos Hoedown, leaving me wondering what goes on the other 364 nights of the year and questioning the protagonist’s grip on reality even before she starts running across any sanity-blasting horrors. Despite this, the various storylines boast some creativity, but less-compelling writing and some implementation awkwardness mean I probably won’t be coming back for a return stay.

The setup here as you as the late-night desk-clerk for an absolutely cursed motel; after clocking into your shift, gameplay consist of either sitting in the lobby waiting for guests to arrive or depart (in more than one sense of the term) or for the phone to ring, checking text messages from your friends, or poking around the motel, including making use of the voyeur-holes hidden behind paintings in six of the motel’s rooms. There’s something uncanny going on in each, from vampiric bloodsucking to Exorcist reenactors to whatever’s going on with the guy with the deer pelt. Add in something nasty lurking below the surface of the pool, and you’ve got more macabre happenings than you could possibly plumb in a single playthrough.

This is especially the case because the monsters will, unsurprisingly, kill you real dead. This is all fair enough – they’re monsters, duh – but I found the way these sequences played out hurt my engagement with the game, since they punish saying yes to stuff. Want to follow the obviously-bad-news femme fatale out into the parking lot? That’s not going to end well. Want to figure out why there’s all that slime by the swimming pool? Likewise (all the more so since doing this got me stuck in a loop where an object kept falling into the pool, leaning me to go check it out, at which point a strange noise or vibration made me retch, at which point something fell in the pool… finally after five go-rounds something with tentacles put me out of my misery). I did manage to survive the night on my third try, largely by sitting on my hands in the lobby, which counts as a win but wasn’t that satisfying.

Throughout, the writing is sometimes creepy but also ungainly. This could be a David Lynch style attempt to unnerve through awkwardness, but for me at least it doesn’t land:

"The nervous guy who came in earlier walks with a strange swagger into the lobby yet he is tightly clutching a leather bag to his side. As he walks by me he gives me a wink and how quickly the smile from his face falls tells me I grimaced in response involuntarily."

Added to this, the implementation sometimes left me unsure where I stood – beyond the shenanigans at the pool, many other random events also seemed to repeat over and over again, but I’m not sure whether that’s because time also didn’t seem to advance every time I clicked to wait at the lobby desk. Were these bugs, the randomizer not being tuned to avoid repetitiveness, or was there some hidden mechanic about what actions moved the clock forward? I’m not sure, and while uncertainty is fine in a horror game, I like it to be deployed to clearer thematic ends.

I suspect there’s an intended way of engaging with the game where the player is more active, zipping around the motel’s locations, spying on each of its residents and dipping in and out of each of their storylines, with replays enlivened by different permutations of the ways each can play out. And as I mentioned there’s some fun creativity here, with even the fairly standard vampire vignette boasting one or two novel images – and my subconscious will be trying to figure out that deer guy for a few days to come. But the fiddly implementation and too-common deaths mean I wasn’t able to find that intended experience, which means I unfortunately didn’t get out of Graveyard Shift everything the author put into it.

Horror anthology, condensed, May 18, 2022

Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel has much to offer: a smorgasbord of spine-chilling tales, often gruesome and always compellingly-written (most of all the one about the microwaved fish), viewed through the vaguely blasé eyes of a protagonist who clearly would rather be anywhere else.

In many ways, the disparate horror plots conjure the feeling of an anthology. But they're not an anthology. They're all happening at once. To allow the player to juggle the many different facets of the action, the game takes a bold tack: the game state advances after a certain amount of real time passes, allowing a quick player to check in on most or all of the different plot threads in between each advance of time.

This mechanic is a hugely interesting experiment, but as it is, I don't feel like it quite hits the sweet spot. This is because:
a) Once I figured out what was going on, I wanted to rush through all of the available scenes at any given time to make sure I saw all of them, which strained my ability to savor the strong writing;
b) It makes the game tedious to replay, which is unfortunate since it has many endings worth seeing, and also because there are several opportunities to get an early game over by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I'm a sucker for a creepy story, so I still enjoyed the game plenty. But I think I'd have gotten more out of it if the real time mechanic was replaced by, for example, a button that allows the player to advance time when they want to.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Spring Thing 2022: Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel, May 14, 2022

There’s a lot made of liminal spaces recently, with widely shared images of spaces that were once public, filled with life, which now wait desolate. This feeling of abandonment in a place which should not, we feel intrinsically, be, has expanded into a myriad of vibes, from vaporwave’s various grandchildren to a new meme mythos like the Backrooms. Our architecture is often built with a pompous sense of permanence; their empty rooms like empty veins.

It's precisely that transitory, permeable space of inhabitance that builds the uncanny liminal borderworld of Graveyard Shift at the Riverview Motel, a “motel that used to view the river but now its scenic views looks out on 6 lanes of frequently congested highway traffic.” A place which once meant something drowned beneath the inexorable progress of The Highway, a gutter where old names that cannot match the moment collect and stagnate. The motel, a makeshift home for those far from home, heaves with the exhausted of the world, and in this terror of quasipresence, each stillness threatens hollowness: “He stares forward without blinking, unmoving, only the slow rise and fall of his chest sway the antlers coming from his head that cast long jagged lines of shadow that reach towards the ceiling and every surface. / The more I watch him the more a pit in my stomach grows until I feel like I’m going to cry, I break away from the wall and finally breathe. I steady myself against the wall to stop shaking.”

Nausea of disappearance plays out in the liminality of the motel as a satirical exaggeration of the emptiness and transitory elements of our own normalness, how our own lives are built on presumptions of permanence that are just as vulnerable. At its best, the game haunts in this unsettling calmness, showing a world in which everyone is so quickly slipping away from you and themselves, as in this delicate scene of people being swallowed by the screen: “Peering through the hole in the wall, the room is draped in pitch. The only thing I can make out in the darkness is a slender body on its knees haloed in the hazy glow from the television set as it blares white noise throughout the room. Body twisted so a single ear is pressed to the glass of the screen, hot breath occasionally fogging up the glass. I notice her lips moving but can’t hear the whispers over the sound of the static, her voice blending in with noise and only adding another layer to the dissonance. / The static grows harsher as an electrical tone begins to drone out of the television and fill the room. The figure stops her muttering and her eyes widen, she nods slowly as if each mechanical movement of her head was to convey the seriousness of her understanding. She sits back from the tv onto her knees, arms slack at her sides as the television static blooms in a fisheye distortion. / Orbs of cascading visual noise ripple out from a single pixel of light in the centre of the screen. She watches intently as the ripples move with an increased speed and intensity, tunnelling out from the centre of the screen. It is only until the ripples slow and still on the screen that I see the glass warping, undulating in pace with the ripples. My eye strains to see through the narrow dim hole what could be causing that effect when a limply held hand juts up from the floor and disappears wrist deep into the screen. The other hand comes up and caresses the writhing ridges of the screen before fingertips disappear within it. Hands and then arms move sinuously into the screen as the woman brings her face up to the screen cheek first, dragging it slowly across the rippling static until she pushes her face, lips first, into the noise. The light all but goes out in the room as the remainder of her body contorts and writhes to fit itself into the hollows of the screen, the light returning to the room dazzling my vision as one last pale foot slides into the television. The screen is quickly gripped by blackness as it's pulled in like corners from the corners of the screen, the static quickly winking out in one final sharp white line, before all that is left is the soft glow from the screen and a single white dot still weakly emitting light from the centre.” By using the amplified setting of the motel to render each metaphor starkly literal, someone being swallowed by the screen becomes baroque, and in that ornamented sinuousness finds an empathy that distills the conceptual nod into a resinous gleam. In particular, the oscillation between noisy horror pangs and quietly human details lends the scene’s startling denotation a slightly misty, mutedly forlorn gentleness that perturbs the conceptual simplicity to an uncanny nuance; it’s easy to write dismissively of someone getting swallowed by the person behind the screen, but it’s altogether more deft to write longingly of it, as if we might be a little jealous of the purity of the tragedy. Woven into the man with this screen disappearance, the man with the elk hat, the vampiric woman, even the strangely overscrupulous older gentleman, is the abandonment that has led them here, to a motel forgotten, a transience we keep living until we cannot.

That delicate horror is unfortunately undermined by our narrator’s acidic ennui, whose rampant animus conforms to the base expectation of normality into uncanniness that drives a lot of horror (it’s just an ordinary shift on an ordinary night oh wait oh nooo it’s not aaaa), but frequently exceeds its remit in ways that detract from the story. Variations of “shit” besmirch most of our narrator’s comments, almost a default reaction to any stimulus: “What a huge fucking creep I hate working here, but maybe if shit is weird tonight a little bit of spying might come in handy. Who knows, weirder shit has happened here.” In particular, the narrator’s spite for their colleague Gus is so incessant that the character becomes angry about an issue from every possible angle, despite their contradictions. When Gus complains about the narrator’s penchant for being late, which is understandable, who wants to be stuck at the desk waiting to be relieved when they could go home to their family, the narrator swipes it aside: “I truly don’t understand how some people assume being in the building but not at the desk the instant a shift starts counts as being late but whatever.” But this annoyance at Gus’ annoyance then switchbacks: “Fuck me for not being here the instant my shift starts but can’t ask this man to stay a second past when his shift ends.” If you’ve ever known someone who is just default annoyed, this inconsistency rings true: the stimulus is entirely arbitrary, the annoyance is built in. Indeed we find ourselves annoyed, especially since this trait doesn’t cohere or nuance the more sensitive and subtle elements: it grates with the game.

I much prefer the muted “ambivalently bored” tedium that the game sulks into when exhausted of ire, which gives a more congenial normality that better interplays with the horror. The viscous drainage of hours passing on the night shift fits well with the humbug doldrums stretched out with Knausgaardian detail: “Mixing it quickly I pop a spoonful in my mouth and instantly burn the roof of my mouth. Holding the soup in my mouth, not ready to swallow, I open my lips and try to vent the heat out of my mouth until it's a safer temperature to eat.” The way each action just balloons out of its importance does a great job of showing time passing quietly, too quietly, not quickly enough. You can almost hear the lights buzzing and flickering.

With the semirandom fluctuation of multiple unrelated plots, there’s enough going oozing around in here to reward multiple playthroughs. The game runs on a real time basis which is kind of wonky, for instance there’s a bug where once you trigger the LeAnn ending, all other playthroughs in the same session trigger the LeAnn ending as soon as the shift starts. But as you tap tap your fingers while things go bump bump in the night, you’ll feel that liminal apotheosis, a loneliness which isn’t alone.

Six horror stories told through real-time mechanisms, April 23, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This game is an interesting experiment in involving real-time in text games.

Basically, there are several storylines going one in different motel rooms as well as outside. You have peepholes into 5 motel rooms. Every minute or so of real time, a counter updates the in-game time and you see new things in the different rooms. Occasionally, you can affect things by being in the right place at the right time (the vast majority of these being deaths).

It's an interesting concept, but it was hard to puzzle out in-game, and I only heard it from others and saw it in the code. Without knowing how it works, the game seems oddly repetitive as you see the same scenes over and over, since they don't change until the next 'tick'.

The writing and plot is similar to B-movies, with some strong profanity, a voyeuristic but not explicit sex scene, and violence. Plots are mostly tributes to classic horror movies, although at least one seems non-magical.

Overall, I'm not sure this timed method worked for me, but I'm glad someone did it so I could see how it works. A couple of the stories were effectively creepy for me.

A well designed Zgame., April 15, 2022


First of all my apollogizes because I haven’t been able to turn music on. It’s a pitty.
Well this is a disturbing game. The premise is not an original one, but all the movies and novellas about Hotels splash in my mind when I start playing.
A lot of people doing odd and freaking things untill the morning. I went alive in my third attempt. The game is short but replayable several times.
The answering machine is a new in this kind of game, giving to the player some good clues to survive. I think this game can be extended aftercomp in various ways to become a big great game.
I have found 4 of the 6 advised endings, perhaps I will play once more time later at night.

I liked and recomed this game.
Well, now this has at least a review 0_o


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