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The Suicide of Rachel Foster Review

Edited by: Jade Swann

The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a walking simulator published by Daedalic Entertainment and developed by ONE-O-ONE GAMES. For any fan of the genre, you will find plenty of nods to your favorites, including Firewatch, Gone Home, and a tinge of What Remains of Edith Finch. For a newcomer, this game will not set you up for an appreciation of the genre. 

The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a confusing romp through the mind and past of one Nicole “Nicky” Wilson, a former resident of the the Timberline Hotel and daughter to owners Leonard McGrath and Claire Wilson. The game takes place over the course of nine days. You begin with a letter from your mother expressing her dying wish that you (Nicole Wilson) sell the defunct hotel after your father passes away. As instructed, the money obtained through the sale of the Timberline is to be used to pay off Nicole’s student loans and the rest is to go to the family of the long time deceased Rachel Foster, also known as Leonard McGrath’s underage love interest; a striking detail you’ll wish you could ignore.

WHAT WORKS

The conversational flow between Irving and Nicole is usually pretty natural; this is one of the better parts of the game that is clearly referencing Firewatch (there is an achievement for having a “spicy” conversation with Irving). But most of the enjoyable portions are purely aesthetic, as the built environment and atmosphere of the game are beautiful. The opening credits take place over an image of a car driving up a winding road, a la Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining opening credits. In fact, the whole game is heavy handed in taking influence from the design and occurences in the Overlook Hotel. If you’re a fan of that film, maybe you’ll enjoy purchasing the game to just walk around a slimmed down version of it. There are several cute moments that might make you feel like Jack Torrance, including an achievement for getting stuck in the kitchen freezer. But more than that, throughout the days you will notice the color of the sky change depending on the time of day when you look out the windows. The trees outside vary in shape as the harsh mountain winds blow through them, all details which add greatly to the illusion that Nicole is becoming increasingly restless. There are also a few rooms with nice chevron bed linens to admire too. 

SOUND DESIGN

The audio tells a story on its own as you wander throughout the hotel, down to the smallest details. The floor creaks in specific areas add to the realism of Nicole re-discovering her childhood home. There are moments when you walk past a telephone on the wall and your steps shake the ringer inside so that it chimes softly (just like real life, if you can remember a landline phone). The garage door has a consistent sound of vibrating tin as the storm on the other side of it attempts to burst through. Perhaps the most satisfying, once the task of restarting the furnace is complete, it can be heard in the background for the remainder of the game depending on your distance to it. Whether it’s a diegetic piece like a VHS tape going into a player or a non-diegetic portion of suspenseful music meant to put you on the edge of your seat while entering a new area of the hotel, the sound design helps to immerse the player into Nicole’s memory and story by placing events in a specific time period and domestic space that creates a sense of nostalgia. 

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

Plot holes aside for now, Nicole’s father, Leonard, is a pedophile no matter which way the story is interpreted and the blatant acceptance of this notion is far more disturbing than the thought of the hotel being haunted. This odd character choice is an entry-way into the flaws of the game. Rachel Foster is routinely objectified and dehumanized as events unfold — countless times she is referred to as “the girl” as a tool to illustrate Nicole’s repressed memories. For a story driven by the plot of discovering more about Rachel’s death, there is very little to discover about Rachel’s life. There is no balance between design and written story. While your surroundings are quite visually appealing, they don’t add much to the plot. Several red herrings exist that the player never receives closure on, including a mandatory night of ghost hunting that has nothing to do with the conclusion of the story.

One of the key qualities of a walking simulator is the subtle objects placed around a character’s world that aid in your knowledge of their normal. The objects in The Suicide of Rachel Foster lead you on a hunt to nothing. Materials that are of any importance will be in plain sight and you cannot progress in the game without them, leading to minimal satisfaction because there are no mysteries to reveal. 

Several folks online have stated that the map does not function unless the game is on the “Epic” setting, this was true for myself as well. Without that setting, only the to-do list can be viewed while the rest is blurry, including the decorative book covers and magazines strewn about the hotel to view. The controls in general are not explained properly; I didn’t realize you could select different dialogue with the mouse scroll wheel until an hour into playing. These kinds of flaws can be even more frustrating when you’re confused about the story to begin with. Let’s talk about...

PLOT HOLES

In the initial letter from Claire Wilson (Nicole’s mother), she states, “Sell our hotel. The hotel is my family’s and you’re entitled to it,” however, it remains unclear that if it was Claire’s family’s hotel, why did she abandon it and leave it to Leonard? Then there is the very obvious question of Leonard’s pedophilia. How does a man over fifty that cheats on his wife and impregnates a girl that is the same age as his daughter not go to prison? Especially after Rachel is found at the bottom of a cliff with their dead fetus still inside her? After all, the choice to make Rachel sixteen years old was deliberate, as well as the several times it was mentioned that the love between Rachel and Leonard was “pure” and that Rachel was “mature for her age.” Leonard’s designed profession of an astrophysics teacher gives his character yet another excuse to believe he has done nothing wrong — it is a belief system he hides behind under the thought that time moves differently for each individual. On the same note, why was an astrophysicist tutoring a teenage girl anyway? Her only stated condition was dyslexia, most commonly treated with a reading specialist… not an astrophysicist.   

Or, how about the countless nods to the horror genre that never pay off in the end? They mostly just waste your time while contributing nothing to the story. They have everything to do with utilizing the environment to create short cheap thrills for the player and nothing to do with anything deeper. The story might have been stronger had days five and six been completely removed.  

4

The Verdict: Flawed

If you’re a fan of the walking simulator genre, you’ll enjoy The Suicide of Rachel Foster, just a little less than any other of the more well-known titles. The price tag for this title is a little under the standard walking simulator range, that might convince you. Horror fans, this game will not pay off for you, but if you can get behind a thriller and ignore the plot issues as well, go ahead and pick this up.

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Written by
Thursday, 26 March 2020 09:00
Published in Adventure

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