Review – The Suicide of Rachel Foster (Switch)
Back when it first came out, I didn’t bother with The Suicide of Rachel Foster, even if its title (which is as subtle as a mammoth inside a china shop) had grabbed my attention at the time. It screamed “boring walking simulator”. The kind of game I frequently try to give a chance, only to disappoint me with pretentious storytelling and terrible gameplay. But I have always felt some kind of morbid curiosity towards it. All because of the damn title. My curiosity only increased once the Switch version got announced, to be released on Halloween day, with the publisher stating it was a tense horror experience to be enjoyed on said day. Horror game? Was that what that thing was? Okay, I couldn’t hold my curiosity for much longer. I had to play it and see for myself.
I cannot say they were wrong, but they weren’t right either. I don’t know how to label The Suicide of Rachel Foster in a fair manner. Sure, it is a walking simulator and at times it showcases the worst elements this genre has to offer, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a thriller, it’s a mystery game, it’s a character piece, and at times it does feel like a horror game, since it’s incredibly tense. Hell, I played through the entire thing (all five hours of it) in one sitting, until the early hours of November 1st. I cannot say that many of these games have ever managed to grabbed my attention like this one did, but at the same time, I feel like it is full of problems that need to be addressed in detail.
I’m not solely talking about its gameplay, although, just like most walking simulators, it’s as lethargic as a sloth with a limp. Unfortunately, it has that stupid emphasis on excessive backtracking and “observing” items just to showcase there’s someone in the development team who’s really good at 3D modelling a tube of toothpaste. It’s more than that. I will try to be as spoiler-free as possible about it, but it’s the final message the game tries to convey that will either make or ruin the experience to anyone who plays it. Calling The Suicide of Rachel Foster a divisive experience is an understatement. Blade Runner is divisive. Twelve Angry Men is divisive. This… this is something else.
Where to begin? Well, the game begins with the death of the protagonist’s mother. Nicole, our “heroine”, grew up in a hotel in Montana which was owned by her father. Eventually, it got abandoned after the death of a sixteen year old girl named Rachel Foster, presumably by committing suicide after the whole town had found out a terrible secret about her and one of Nicole’s family members. Nicky then ran away from Montana with her mother, living a new life in Oregon. After the death of both her mother and estranged father, she is forced to go back to the now-derelict hotel and check its conditions in order to sell it to the highest bidder.
The problem: it’s late December. It’s cold and there’s tons of snow. Nicole eventually gets trapped inside the hotel and is forced to stay at a place full of terrible memories. Granted, she has enough food and supplies to last for an entire month in a worst-case scenario, but she clearly doesn’t like revisiting such repressed memories. She would be alone inside an abandoned hotel, if it wasn’t for the constant company of one Irving Jenkins, a FEMA agent who contacts her via cellphone (the game is set in 1993, so we’re talking the big fat brick shaped cellphones).
Nothing I have mentioned so far is a spoiler, even if some of what I just wrote might lead to some obvious conclusions. Don’t worry, the game doesn’t try to hide these events and you would have to be ultra oblivious not to get the memo in an instant. With that being said, a lot more happens later on. The buildup, shockingly enough, was excellent. Even if the beginning of the game was ungodly boring, things would eventually escalate, to the point I could not stop playing it. I felt more tense about it than with any other psychological horror game out in the market, even if, technically speaking, no horror elements are present in The Suicide of Rachel Foster. Horrible elements are aplenty, though.
After the first few days or so inside the abandoned hotel, where the focus is on the protagonist’s past, things escalate and become a lot more interesting. The game is also backed by some really strong writing and excellent voice acting. The initial distrust, then banter, then warming up between Nicole and Irving does feel like a cheap Firewatch knockoff at times, but it’s so well-written and acted that you won’t actually mind. The overall sound effects and sparse soundtrack are top notch, and only ramp up when some new plot twist or tense situation unfolds.
It also helps that despite the aforementioned issue with the lethargic gameplay, the abandoned hotel looks nice and is well-designed. It feels like a maze at first, but after playing it a while you eventually learn its layout by heart. It’s almost as if you are remembering the hotel’s layout alongside the protagonist. As if you two are reliving memories. The hotel is obviously inspired the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, which was a nice touch. It makes you feel cozy and tense at the same time.
Tension is the name of the game in The Suicide of Rachel Foster. If there is one thing I loved about the game, it was its buildup. When the game stops being focused on Nicole’s past and more on what hell is happening with the hotel at that exact moment, the story goes from boring drama to a horror thriller, and it works. The pacing improves. The writing improves. The dialogue improves. Even the fact you’re set inside a Shining-esque hotel makes things more interesting, exactly in the same way as Danny’s famous cutscene works in that movie. Nothing ever happens when you walk down a corridor, but it’s the actual fact there is no actual payoff moment that makes things ever more tense. You just accumulate more tension. Until the point where things actually go bananas.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster will either be amazing or atrocious in your opinion, all according to how you react towards its last chapter. It’s one plot twist or reveal after the other. Sure, the payoff is tense, but the way the developers handled some of the topics tackled in this game is just… wrong. No, I’m not saying THEY are gross. In fact, I commend them. There is some excellent goodwill in here. They meant well. But this is just like when you try to bake a cake for your loved one and end up setting the house on fire. You didn’t mean to do so, but it happened anyway and it’s all ruined because of you.
Let’s just say that by the end of the game some weird crap happens, and the way the game forces your protagonist to react makes The Suicide of Rachel Foster go from a David Fincher thriller in game form to a big fat “YIKES” sign in game form. I don’t think it was meant to be as pretentious as the pathetic plot twist in the overrated Twelve Minutes by Annapurna Interactive, but it’s hard to swallow. And not just because it’s a pile of taboo subjects. The game doesn’t give you a choice on how to react. You’re supposed to react in the most humanly illogical way. You’re only given freedom of choice on how to end the game’s plot in the very last scene, in which both outcomes are as bad as any of the three outcomes in Mass Effect 3.
At the end of my run (and remember, I plowed through the damn thing in one sitting), I couldn’t help but look back at the story’s buildup and realize there were more holes in the plot than there are in Swiss cheese. I loved the way the story was being told, but the payoff made the entire game look worse in retrospect. I also beat the game barely knowing anything about the titular Rachel Foster. For a game named after her, she is barely mentioned for a good portion of the runtime. Hell, I found out more about her father than her. Everyone gets a good chunk of character development, but her. Then when she’s actually given the spotlight every now and then, it’s not very well executed.
Some people will play The Suicide of Rachel Foster and think it’s a tense and engaging thriller that pushes the medium to new uncharted territory. Others will play the game and despise it, calling it gross and tone-deaf. My thoughts on their opinions? I think they are both right. For a good chunk of my time with it, I was actually engaged with its story and buildup, only to reach its ending and not really be able to decide from the get-go what my thoughts were about it. Thought-provoking? Sure. Horrendous? Also yes. A tense psychological horror experience? Kinda. Boring-as-hell walking simulator? Also true. Artistic? Probably. Tone-deaf? You bet. Play at your own risk.
Even if the framerate is inconsistent and the lack of actual animated characters is a nuisance, the game does look nice on the Switch. Weirdly enough, I’d suggest playing this one in docked mode instead of portable.
Your typical walking simulator. Once you jack the camera sensitivity to high levels (thank me later), all you’ll have to do is put up with your protagonist’s lethargic walking pace.
Credit needs to be given where it’s due. The voice acting, sound effects, occasional eerie music, the whole shabang works really well.
Here’s the weird part: the story is amazing, yet full of inconsistencies when you start thinking about it. It’s somehow a stupidly tense horror thriller and a tiny waif of a game with little payoff. It’s equal parts thought provoking and utterly gross.
Final Verdict: 6.0
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of The Suicide of Rachel Foster was provided by the publisher.