Editor’s note: This review contains some story spoilers.
Contributing author: Mariel Bokor
Sometimes, a story has all the right pieces, but still somehow manages to miss the mark. The Suicide of Rachel Foster has all the elements of a good mystery, and a good horror game at first glance. You’ll play as Nicole, a young woman who’s recently lost her last parent and now has to head to Montana to take ownership of a creepy, abandoned hotel that was the site of some truly horrible happenings.
After receiving an upsetting phone call, Nicole is forced to relive some truly traumatic events that happened at the hotel, surrounding the suicide of Rachel Foster, a girl around her age whose body was found on the hotel’s property, nine weeks pregnant. The death was ruled a suicide, but new information has come to light. This, and a note from Nicole’s long dead mother telling her to sell the property, compel her to revisit the hotel and these events. Soon after she arrives on the scene though, a freak snowstorm and some potentially supernatural disturbances mean she’s trapped in the hotel with no relief in sight until the storm lets up.
Sounds compelling, right? Unfortunately, the sparse story, abrupt and confusing plot developments, and the way The Suicide of Rachel Foster handles some sensitive subject matter make it hard to recommend.
As Nicole, you’ll explore the mansion, solving minor puzzles and collecting parts in order to piece together the puzzle of your father’s checkered past and the suicide of Rachel Foster. There is another character who you frequently talk with over your cellphone but never interact with (like Firewatch). It’s fun, if simple, and the cramped hallways and corridors, as well as the constant wind and creaking of the hotel make sure you never feel truly safe.
Much thought seems to have been given to the atmosphere and audio design of The Suicide of Rachel Foster. The run down, abandoned hotel the game takes place in looks great, and the winter setting gives off some serious Shining vibes, which I love. Mousing over objects gives a brief description from the eyes of Nicole that help the player get a sense of her memory of the place. This, combined with having sounds realistically move from your right to left ear as you move does so much for putting you in the shoes of the character and makes you feel like you’re there.
Warning: Spoilers follow in the next paragraph:
While The Suicide of Rachel Foster does an incredibly job of presenting its setting and building tension, it falls short in the story department. A lot of reviewers mentioned this, but it turns out that Leonard, Nicole’s father, was having a sexual relationship with Rachel, Nicole’s friend. A lot of horror movies delve into themes of sexual assault, and if handled better I think The Suicide of Rachel Foster’s story would actually be good. But Leonard seems to be portrayed as a sympathetic character who had “love” enough in his heart for everybody in his life. The way this game handles its heavy subject matter is weird, and borders on creepy.
This leaves me at a crossroads. I love the overall presentation of The Suicide of Rachel Foster. It feels like a Shining Game we never got, and does a great job realizing its snowed-in, haunted mansion; but by the ending of the game I felt gross, without feeling like I’d learned something. I’ve played games that made me feel gross before, but it made sense because that feeling had purpose and conveyed a message. I saw no such message in this game.
If you don’t tend to focus on story, or this still seems like an interesting premise, then I’d recommend The Suicide of Rachel Foster. On the other hand, if you’re put off by some of the subject matter and how it’s handled, and you still want a scary, atmospheric game, you may want to get your horror fix elsewhere.
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