It helps to think of The Suicide of Rachel Foster as a game with two components.
When it comes to what it does with atmosphere and the responses it wants to elicit via that atmosphere, Rachel Foster is a roaring success.
When it comes to what it wants to do with its story, it is a catastrophic failure.
The game opens with protagonist Nicole arriving at a long-closed and partially derelict hotel that she has inherited following her father’s death. Nicole is supposed to perform a quick inventory with the family’s lawyer and sanction a sale.
However, an unexpected blizzard leaves you trapped alone, with only a phone connected to a FEMA agent to keep you company.
Even early on, there is a sense of narrative events being inelegantly twisted around a concept that’s yet to reveal itself. This, it turns out, is a warning of what’s to come.
The sense that it is contrived is easily forgivable early on due to the effectiveness of the setting the game places you in. Long empty corridors build dread and anticipation as you trudge them; dusty and dark spaces envelop you in paranoia about whether you are truly alone here; and forays away from the safe space of Nicole’s old childhood bedroom, into the guts of the hotel’s infrastructure, are expeditions of constant background terror.
The game uses quiet creaks and shuffles to chilling effect, straddling a boundary where you can believe these are just the kind of sounds you’ll hear in any old building, or just maybe something far more unsettling.
The oppressive loneliness of this space is broken up via calls to a FEMA agent who offers support and help to Nicole as she begins digging into the history of her family and the hotel. This is an idea clearly influenced by Firewatch, but it isn’t as well-written, nor the shifts in the characters’ relationship as well-earned.
The way the game holds you in a state of constant tension means you will still be glad of the relief a call from him offers – in that sense, the device has its intended effect – but again, issues here are indicative of problems that grow as the game’s narrative stumbles, unravels, and lands flat on its face in an awful conclusion.
Indicative of the way the game mishandles some heavy themes is its depiction of the relationship between Rachel Foster and Nicole’s father. This amounts to a story about a middle-aged man grooming a 16-year old, but the game does not present it that way.
It often feels like an exercise in justifying what it frames as a genuine love story, and is reckless in failing to confront issues of abuse that inevitably require at least some thought when depicting a relationship like this.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is derivative, contrived, and poorly plotted. However, I can’t deny that I still found its atmosphere terrifyingly effective. This place and the unease it provokes mean the game is, in spite of itself, at least a partial success.
Though the game hints at possible paranormal goings-on, it keeps signs of this very small and subtle, meaning that you’re in doubt until near the end of the game as to whether anything you see or hear is really evidence of something spooky.
An effectively haunting setting marred by dreadful storytelling.
Format: PC (tested)
Developer: ONE-O-ONE GAMES
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release: Out now