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Still waiting..., October 3, 2021
The Waiting Room is a choice-based game by Billy Krolick, published in 2021. You are a new employee at the Shady Oaks Nursing Home and you accidentally end up tangled in a supernatural mystery. The game's disclaimer says that it was inspired by "various snippets of true accounts", and it's easy to believe that. (Spoiler - click to show)Besides the supernatural threat, the evil that exists at Shady Oaks is unfortunately all too mundane - basically criminal negligence by the staff.
As usual for a choice-based title, the gameplay mostly consists of reading and clicking various text links. Some meaningful branching paths as well as one slightly puzzley sequence add some intrigue to the otherwise quite straightforward user experience.
The writing is decent. The prose can be slightly inelegant and unpolished, with some occasional typos. Sometimes the game just flat out tells the player what they should feel, which I think is not optimal horror writing. "...all the lights are off. The windows dark and empty. Weird."
The story itself is often eerie and even sad, but I do think it's a bit too fast-paced and compressed for best results. The flow of time is inconsistent and the world building somewhat minimal. Even the main character is just a nameless cipher, which feels off in a story like this where you have extensive social interactions with other characters - you are a nurse, after all. The game gives you enough context to care about the choices you make, but it does sometimes feel a little thin.
Besides that, the story (Spoiler - click to show)seems somewhat unfeasible, with the Back Hall apparently having actual rotting corpses which everyone just decided to hush up before getting back to work. Or are the corpses a hallucination which only appears at night? The game isn't exactly clear on this. Some of the big choices in the game also seem counter-intuitive. For instance, why would anyone cover up for Austin after realizing what he's done? You've spent exactly one work day with him, and this brief encounter shouldn't really inspire the needed camaraderie or attachment that would make the player want to cover up his crimes. This choice seemed to come out of nowhere, in my opinion.
The suggested playing time is around one hour, although I think a single playthrough takes much less than that, possibly around 30 minutes. However, the story does have branching paths and multiple endings which give it replay value.
Overall, I feel like The Waiting Room has a few powerful moments but also some strange design and wasted potential. At the very least, it's a generally functional title which can be worth a try if you want a somewhat eerie and sad visit to a haunted nursing home.