Updated: Oct 1
Before I dig into anything, I have to give a content warning for grooming, sexual assault, grief, and suicide. This game hits some emotionally heavy content, and while it thankfully doesn’t go into gruesome detail, nor does it glorify any of the things above, it may upset those who are more sensitive or who have experienced these things. Please remember that you aren’t alone, and that there are services that can put you in touch with someone to talk to if you need it. Fortunately, One-o-one Games has provided a list of resources, which you can find here.
Sixteen year old Rachel Foster took her own life after the affair she was having with Leonard, an astrophysicist and father to Rachel’s friend Nicole, is brought to light. Ten years after the fact, it’s up to Nicole to write the end to the saga to fulfill her mother’s final wish: sell the hotel, pay for her own schooling, then send the rest of the money to the girl’s family. Nicole arrives at the Timberline Hotel, thinking it will be a quick once-over to assess the value of the contents, only to be stuck in the massive lodge due to an incoming once in a generation snowstorm.
Stuck inside the walls that hold too many painful memories of days gone by, Nicole must uncover the secrets of the Timberline, her father’s affair with her best friend, and any other skeletons in the closets of the fruit’s of her father’s labor. With the intuitive Irving, a FEMA agent, as her only contact on the outside, on new technology known as a cellular phone, Nicole will ride out the storm for as long as it - and her grief - will let her.
The only real gameplay mechanic on display is exploration. There’s no fighting off ghosts or anything that may have been left behind following the untimely passing of Nicole’s father, this is more or less a walking simulator within the confines of an expansive hotel that has gone to hell. Even later into the game, when you think you know where you’re going and how to get there, you find another path to another room that wasn’t your destination, but you now know another way to get there and you take a mental note. That’s one of the strong points of this game; that is, that just when you think you have the Timberline mapped out in your mind, you don’t, and there’s another passageway that helps to get around.
Another highlight - and this may just be a personal thing - is that this game, for its three to four hour runtime, had maybe three jumpscares altogether. The atmosphere created by the music, the dingy lighting, and the objects on the walls help to build the tension and dread, rather than a bunch of things jumping out at you and catching you off your game. It doesn’t go cheap, no, The Suicide of Rachel Foster goes for the long game, despite its substandard length, and seeks to unnerve the player over time, rather than pop a quick jump in heart rate or anxiety whenever it chooses. While you could argue that this is more of a mystery/thriller, the fact that we take the time to build tension is a nice thing.
Which brings me to the unfortunate parts of this game. For one, it’s dreadfully short, and even then, the last hour or so seems so back-ended, so rushed, it’s a shame. There’s enough content, enough secrets that one could fit into a game like this that we could get an eight to ten-hour experience, and while I’m not dissatisfied with a game not even half that length, I am dissatisfied with how we get one whole in-game day that is akin to a filler episode of an anime. I mean, it is more or less fanservice, a “will they or won’t they?” that, even after knowing the truth in the game’s wild final day, doesn’t really do much to serve the overall story. In a longer game, a bit of filler and fluff is fine, perhaps even necessary. But in this short of an experience, do we really need this scene?
The intro to this game grabbed me from the jump. A somber acoustic guitar playing under the scene, as you read through Nicole’s mother’s goodbye note, jumping between this and a funeral scene, it was frankly one of the best opening sequences I’ve seen in any visual media, be it video game or otherwise. It felt like we were really going to get heavy, dare I say miserable, and I was prepared for that. To go from that to the snappy, witty dialogue between Nicole and Irving made it seem like the game didn’t know what it was, which on one hand could be an allegory for growing up, but seems a bit much in that regard.
And then we get to the ending, and I won’t spoil anything for story’s sake, but holy hell, I was not ready to deal with a choice like that. It’s poetic to some degree, but after the twist it feels a bit ham-fisted, a bit much. Several parts of the finale seem to be for shock value, descending further into melodrama when the opening minutes of the game promised so much more. There’s a great idea, a deep, affecting story at the heart of The Suicide of Rachel Foster, but it needed more time to incubate, more time to grow into what it needed to be, what it promised to be.
Would I recommend The Suicide of Rachel Foster? If it’s on sale, yes, but at a $20 price point, I don’t know if I can justify grabbing it. But if you are looking for something different, something to get away from the din of a lot of modern gaming, it’s something worth exploring, just as the Timberline itself is. Even in its half-baked form, there’s at least some meat on the bone, and enough exploration to get lost in to justify spending an afternoon with Nicole and Irving.
And if it’s during a snowstorm, even better.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.