At the start of The Suicide Of Rachel Foster, the game opens with a very serious disclaimer that this Indie tackles sensitive subjects like grooming and sexual abuse. It’s quite the statement to make before the game has even begun and immediately hits you with a serious realization – this is not going to be an easy game to play.
Already, Suicide Of Rachel Foster unintentionally sets a high bar for itself to try and achieve. Inevitably you’ll go in with an expectation of this Indie handling a harrowing story with care and attention to detail. Early on, this game takes elements from both Firewatch and Gone Home, building an intriguing puzzle box to solve across its relatively short 3 hour run time.
It’s an intriguing and promising opener but unfortunately the game starts to slip up with its story around the midway point. Eventually it crashes head-first into a lacklustre, shocking and pretty questionable ending that undermines the whole experience.
You play as Nicole, a woman returning to her Father’s hotel in the wake of his death. Deep in the snowy bleakness of Montana, you take ownership of his creepy, abandoned hotel which you prepare to sell off. Only, this also happens to be the last place that a young girl named Rachel Foster was seen. Following her suicide, numerous questions are raised over what drove this girl to such an extreme act. At this point the reigns are handed over to you to figure out what really happened.
Our tale takes place across 9 days as you wind up in contact with a mysterious man via radio called Irving. He’s a pretty cheerful chap and he guides you through the various stages of survival early on. From placing a tin of beans in the microwave (wait, wouldn’t metal ruin that?) to fixing up the electrics, the early stages are essentially used to learn the layout of this four-story hotel. The second half is where cracks start to form though as you start to uncover who Irving the game loses its effectiveness.
Without getting too much into spoiler-territory, the game portrays 16 year old Rachel Foster as a minor; an outcast at school and dyslexic. She was involved in a relationship with a much older man but – despite 16 being the legal age of consent here in the UK and Montana – the game never calls out the sexual abuse and grooming for what it is. Especially as you learn there’s a teacher/student vibe with this whole icky affair.
Instead, this is romanticized as a tragedy and distorts the story to create a more sympathetic and reflective love angle. I won’t dive too much further into the details but this story really didn’t sit well with me, regardless of the twists at the end.
However, the hotel this questionable story takes place in is undoubtedly creepy, with a decent atmosphere clinging to every room you discover. A chandelier lays shattered on the floor in the dining room, shutters slam relentlessly against broken windows and mold-covered floors crack ominously as you step over them. This is only complemented further by some decent lighting and nicely detailed areas that you can zoom into (by pressing L2) and see up close.
There is a slight bit of blurring though while you move, especially when you’re running between floors and glancing at the signs on the walls. When you slow down, these do come into more focus. I’d imagine this was a deliberate design choice to keep performance optimized without stuttering. Otherwise though, the scenes are nicely animated and there’s a few welcome cut-scenes here as well.
Most of the playable game time will see you running around and collecting clues, piecing together what happened to Rachel Foster with numerous hints toward your own Father being involved in some way. At the same time, you’re chasing ghosts and how all of this ties with a church that’s somehow connected to the mystery. If the first half carefully stacks up a meticulous house of cards, the second half does everything it can to smash that to bits with the aforementioned romanticized elements.
It’s not helped by the environment itself which isn’t that interactive. While some items can be picked up and examined, the same props tend to show up over and over again. Cigarettes, bottles and even empty VHS boxes are strewn all over the hotel. You do collect different items in your inventory along the way, ranging from a camera to a microphone, but they serve little function other than to progress through a couple of segments in the story.
Day 5 even tries to mix things up with a dream sequence, depicting you slowly walking forward to a glowing item that becomes much more important in the story later on. While this is a nice inclusion, it never quite has the dramatic chops to back up its significance as a visual motif in the story.
The way this game has been designed relies heavily on audio and video to drive the story forward too. While I mentioned those light bits of interactivity, most of these are undermined by long-winded radio conversations with Irving. At one point you’re standing in an office piecing together evidence but the game requires you to click individually on each piece of evidence, listen to the full radio conversation about that item while standing in one spot.
Late on, the final Day in the game requires a very specific sequence of events to be triggered despite the illusion of choice within that final area. These game choices may seem minor but in a title that urges you to watch everything and be meticulous, this feels a bit of a disingenuous statement.
In fact, this disingenuousness plays straight back into the early warning of the game. Yes there are topics of grooming and sexual abuse but it’s distorted into a bizarre romanticized narrative that not only undermines the ideas, it actually damages the game’s credibility. I really wanted to like Suicide of Rachel Foster and I think games as an interactive medium are actually well-equipped to tell these hard-hitting and difficult stories – but not from this perspective.
Whether on purpose or not, the tone-deaf narrative promises to tackle these subjects diligently but does nothing of the sort. Instead, Suicide Of Rachel Foster is a game in serious need of a rewrite and difficult to recommend in its current state.
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Verdict - 3.5/10