- Genre: Mystery, Adventure
- Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC
- Developer | Publisher: One O One Games | Daedalic Entertainment
- Age Rating: PEGI 16 | ESRB Mature
- Price: UK £15.99 | US $19.99
- Initial Release Date: 19th February 2020
Review code used, with many thanks to Renaissance PR!
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is an ambitious story that attempts to handle two very delicate subjects- grooming, and suicide. While the game does what it can to drive home the severity of these topics, One O One do not seem equipped for the seriousness of the situation they created. A disclaimer at the start of the game pops up urging people experiencing similar situations to reach out to others. The game is a mixed bag, with the first half building tension and getting the player accustomed to the massive hotel and the second feeling like a soap opera.
The story was engaging and interesting enough to have me complete it in one sitting. It suffers from some lulls and the story can be clumsy and convoluted and times, but ultimtately kept my attention throughout, although the climax and ending left me cringing and uncomfortable. It took me roughly 4 hours to get through, including getting lost a few times in the massive hotel and long corridors.
In the Suicide of Rachel Foster you play as Nicole, an estranged daughter who is returning to her family’s hotel to sell it, hoping to free herself from her ties with the Timberline Hotel and all it’s secrets. Ten years earlier, Nicole and her mother fled the hotel after Nicole’s father had an affair with the 17 year old Rachel Foster, who ended up taking her own life and the life of her unborn child. With the intention of auditing the Timberline before selling it, Nicole ends up trapped by a blizzard.
The first couple of hours I really enjoyed; it’s main focus is tackling the huge space that is the hotel. Luckily, you have company through Nicole’s radiotelephone with a FEMA agent named Irving who offers tips such as the location of the pantry and how to restore power when the lights go out. Irving became akin to a friend, offering Nicole help and sometimes just someone to talk to when the story took a dip.
As the game entered it’s second half I hoped it was heading more into ghost story territory. However, rummaging through the items left at the hotel and putting together the pieces is where things start to get convoluted and problematic. This is where the game starts to delve into the relationship between Nicole’s father and Rachel, warranting the disclaimer at the beginning of the game. The real crux of the problem is that this relationship between student and mentor is seen as romantic and the story begins to spiral into a drama.
At one point Nicole stumbles across a room that points to obsession for Rachel on her father’s part. Her reaction to this is a puzzling one; her anger and dispair is not aimed at her father for doing such a thing but at the room itself that it dares to exist. This is one of several instances in the game where the issue at the core of the game- the “relationship” between Rachel and Nicole’s father- is glossed over. This becomes more apparant when their dynamic is described as “love, nothing more, nothing less”.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is ostensibly a walking simulator. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; walking through the hotel’s long corridors and listening to the wind howl and the hotel creak is great for the atmosphere. As you explore the hotel, finding secret passages (which I delighted in) and clues, you check in with and run theories by Irving. This is made more interesting as you’re given options for how Nicole interacts with and responds to Irving and the clues you find.
The game has a certain rustic charm which made me like it almost immediately. It’s the little things that make all the difference, such as pulling up a map and to-do list instead of pulling up a screen to navigate the map, which fits in nicely with the early 1990’s setting. It also helps to be able to pull up the map and tasks when you inevitably get lost.
While there are items you can only pick up through story progression such as a dynamo flashlight to light dim hidden passageways and a parabolic microphone to chase whispers through the hallways, you have free reign of the hotel almost immediately. Not only does this give the game a daunting feel while you try to get to grips with the massive Timberline, it’s also eerie when you revisit an area or room and find a clue that was definitely not there before. At one point in the story, you consolidate all the information you’ve collected so far in a police like evidence board which was fun to talk through with Irving.
Graphics, Sound, and Performance
The game is a pleasure to look at – great effort and attention to detail has clearly been put in to create the Timberline, as is to be expected from the Unreal Engine. From the large and grand ballroom to the decrepit and mould ridden second floor the game looks great, even when it’s supposed to look melancholy and gloomy. The lighting in the game, whether natural or artificial, looks fantastic.
Not all of the Timberline is pretty and well lit, however. Some rooms and corridors are dark and dank, with mould running up the walls or faded patched in wallpaper where painting once hung, giving the hotel a truly abandoned and uncared for feel. Simple things like mouldy food in the pantry add to this. The subtle exposition in certain rooms is also appreciated.
The sound design in the game is errie and atmospheric. The creaking of the hotel amps the tension and what sounded like faint footsteps in the background had me looking over my shoulder more than once. Rachel Foster was made to be played with headphones and playing it any other way would be doing the game a disservice.
The voice acting in the game is solid, with Irving and Nicole both sounding believable, but a few lines get lost in translation. One thing that did disappoint me is that Rachel has no voice of any kind. There are no flashbacks, notes or diary entries. To say that the game is centred around Rachel, I know nothing about her except her name, age and situation. It would have been intersting to hear (or read) about Rachel’s situation and feelings from her point of view and not just what Nicole and Irving speculate.
The game is not without it’s issues though. While I didn’t encounter any visual issues such as lag or texture pops, I did come across a few sound issues. Some voice lines would not be voiced or would sound like a stuck CD. Relaunching the game resolved these issues and I didn’t encounter them again. At another point the game froze before crashing. Like the sound issues, this only happened once.
The game has no difficulty options as would be expected from a walking simulator. It can be hard to know what to do next as there is not always an objective on the to-do list. This can be frustrating, especially on the occasions where your next objective seems to be time-based. More than once I was left aimlessly wandering around looking for what to do next before Irving chimed in with my next point of interest or task.
It’s also easy to get lost in the Timberline, especially at the beginning of the game. This isn’t helped by the fact that your position is never marked on the map and some rooms can only be accessed via hidden passageways.
All in all, the game has an interesting, if sometimes cumbersome story. The atmosphere is solid and evokes unease and paranoia, which I really appreciated. As much as I enjoyed the atmosphere of the game, and thought that the hotel looked great, this is all bogged down by the relationship between Rachel and Nicole’s father. The fact that this is romanticised leaves a bad taste that I simply can’t look past and ruined the experience for me.
A mystery game with a solid atmosphere spoiled by the mishandling of sensitive topics.