Coming off the back of narrative games like Firewatch and Gone Home, I went into The Suicide of Rachel Foster expecting a similar sort of adventure, and I came away with a mixed reaction. The story features a woman, Nicole, journeying to the isolated Timberland Hotel after her father’s death to sell the property and move past some painful memories. In time, we learn more about her family and the aftermath of her father’s affair with the titular Rachel Foster.
The hotel itself has a clear The Shining resemblance, something you notice almost immediately upon starting the game. Not only is it located up in the snowy mountains of Montana, where Kubrick shot many exterior scenes in his 1980 adaptation, but many of the rooms around the hotel resemble perfect recreations from the film too, down to the bright red restrooms and homely master suite. As you continue playing through the opening few days, you become more acquainted with the intricacies of each area, as the hotel’s cosy innards contrast against the harsh blizzard raging outside. You slowly become intimately entangled with the hotel’s familiarity, and it starts to feel like home to you.
But it’s also billed as a horror, and when you’re using The Shining as a baseplate there’s bound to be a bunch of creepy ghost scares right? Not quite. The location itself, combined with the game’s abhorrent premise, holds potential for some really mesmerising moments of horror, but there aren’t enough moments in the story to really call it an effective work of horror. There are some sequences that work, such as one involving found footage from a paranormal television camera crew, but these moments are too far and few between to keep us engaged with the scarier elements of the plot. In the end, it would be more accurate to call the game a mystery thriller more than anything. Nicole’s investigation and her conversations with Irving, a FEMA agent acting as your guide from the other end of a remote transceiver, are a much bigger focus than anything remotely scary about it.
Seeing the relationship between these two develop is the most interesting part of the game. At first Nicole is abrasive and rude towards Irving, a target of her frustration from being stranded up in the mountains, but they eventually warm up to each other as her stay at the Timberland lengthens. This is where the Firewatch resemblance exudes through, with both characters growing closer together as they communicate long-distance over a radio. And despite her being very clear-cut and confident, Nicole also shows moments of doubt and even a sense of humour, a testament to Kosha Engler’s voice talent to make the character feel rounded.
But the plot’s mystery doesn’t work as strongly, and it’s because we’re so disconnected from the events surrounding Rachel Foster. We never get to know a lot about her, or see events from her perspective, as most of it is explored through expository dialogue and notes left by other people. It’s not reliable enough to be able to connect with her, which feels like a poor choice considering she is the eponymous character and feels like a hugely missed opportunity. We’re supposed to sympathise with her, but it feels like a very ‘outside looking in’ approach and we end up feeling disconnected from her more than anything.
Then there are the other issues explored in the story; suicide, teenage pregnancy and child abuse, which are instead reduced to corny melodrama that serves little more than to shock the player and engage them with sudden plot twists. There’s no expression here, no care, it’s like I’m playing a soap opera. It’s not done in a necessarily offensive way, as the content warning at the beginning shows the developer at least wants you to engage with these subjects meaningfully), but it feels like something was lost during the writing process.
With this in mind, I’m torn on whether to recommend this game or not. The Suicide of Rachel Foster certainly has some value to it. Exploring the hotel, discovering all its secrets and piecing together parts of the mystery can be fun and engaging. But the story then goes off the deep end halfway through and loses track of what makes those initial few hours interesting. Combined with the lacklustre horror and mishandled themes, it makes it a difficult title to recommend.
Tested on PS4 Pro
Also available on Xbox One, PC
Developer One-O-One Games
Publisher Daedalic Entertainment
Disclosure a copy of The Suicide of Rachel Foster was provided by Daedalic Entertainment