Games have the capacity to tackle some of the most sensitive and pressing issues of the past, present, and future. Given the right balance of writing, interactivity, and tact, we’ve seen things like depression, suicide, and mental illness handled with surprising depth. The Suicide of Rachel Foster seeks to step into a world filled with betrayal, sadness, and even darker themes beyond that.
It does so through the lens of a narrative game that has you exploring as Nicole throughout a family-owned hotel that hides the family’s worst secrets. Should you book a room here for a thoughtful look into these themes, or does this hotel deserve a 1-star review? Let’s find out.
A Story That Doesn’t Quite Resonate
The Suicide of Rachel Foster takes inspiration from some of the best titles in this genre. The hotel set in the snowy mountains of Montana is incredibly well realized from the very beginning. The environments drip with atmosphere, and while interactive items are far less than one would expect from this kind of game, simply walking its empty halls conveys a lot of story in and of itself.
The hotel is admittedly creepy, and I think The Suicide of Rachel Foster would have benefited from a more horror-focused approach on the literal or figurative ghosts of Nicole’s past. Instead, the game chooses to convey the plot through a cell phone connection between Rachel and a member of FEMA named Irving who talks her through the situation.
Outside the hotel, a blizzard prevents Nicole from leaving and makes the roads impossible to traverse. Stuck with no one but Irving to talk to, Nicole decides to explore the hotel as she’s supposed to give it a once over before a lawyer helps her sell it in the wake of her father and mother’s death.
The dialogue between Nicole and Irving ranges from natural to borderline cringe-worthy. The voice acting is good for the most part, but Irving’s constant “ah” and “ums” were a little much for me at times.
The lack of interactivity in the environment became more apparent as the game went on, leading to moments where I listened to Nicole and Irving talk back and forth while aimlessly wandering the halls waiting for the chance to move things forward.
Ideas like simple puzzles and hidden shortcuts in the hotel are really interesting, but woefully underutilized. You spend a lot of time exploring on your own while the game talks at you. There’s also the issue of pacing. The story is fairly slow for the first hour or two, with some standout moments of intrigue, but it’s not until the second half of this short story that things pick up very quickly.
A lot of exposition hits you in the final hours of the game, and it feels like it could have been spaced out better to make the entire experience feel compelling. There’s also the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.
(LIGHT SPOILERS): As part of the story, you find out early on that Rachel Foster herself was a young girl who had a sexual relationship with Rachel’s father, Leonard. At the time, Rachel and Nicole were the same age, so her father was essentially in a relationship with an underage girl less than half his age. (END OF LIGHT SPOILERS)
I feel the need to make the above known because that aspect of the story makes it hard to really connect with the events of the game, especially in those final hours. Trying to justify this type of scenario just comes across as uncomfortable. It makes sense for the characters who try to justify it, but their excuses should have been met with more ridicule from sounder minds. Instead, the game is fine with defending this type of scenario, and placing blame elsewhere for Rachel’s ultimate suicide referenced in the title.
It’s not something I can get behind, and I imagine very few people would feel empathy for this take on the situation. It’s a shame, because I think there was an opportunity here to approach a very delicate situation with a more nuanced approach and provide the criticism it so rightfully deserves, but instead its idealized in a way that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
A Fully Realized Hotel to Explore (At Least Visually)
Story issues aside, The Suicide of Rachel Foster does benefit from a very nice presentation. The hotel is filled with visual details and distinct rooms that all give it an interesting personality. The lack of interactivity hurts because the environmental work is so strong that I would almost wish this exact environment could be used within the context of a better, or perhaps more agreeable story.
While The Suicide of Rachel Foster wants to appeal to those who love What Remains of Edith Finch and Firewatch, it’s misguided story and half-baked game mechanics keep it from coming close to the heights those games reached.
Final Score: 6.0/10
A copy of The Suicide of Rachel Foster was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/16/2020