The Suicide Of Rachel Foster is an exemplary psychological horror that pays an obvious, yet subtle, homage to the work of Stephen King without losing its’ uniqueness and charm.
Amongst indie developers, first-person psychological horror games are a dime a dozen. I know, I know… That’s a bit of an Americanisation, but it’s true. Some of them are better than others, but for the most part they all float around a happy medium. Their narrative is fun and engaging, graphically they’re not bad… But they never quite excel in any category. What Remains of Edith Finch is one that has found a place in my memory, mainly down to it’s innovate gameplay sequences… But titles such as Those Who Remain and Layers Of Fear, both similar, seem to fade slightly into the recesses of “Every Game I’ve Ever Played.”
The Suicide Of Rachel Foster may be the most-recent first-person psychological horror game I’ve played, but I imagine it’ll be one I will be talking about for a long time. It may not have the most extreme narrative ever, nor is it overly complex, however it is told excellently. The two main performances, Kosha Engler as Nicole and Christopher Ragland as Irving, are exceptional. In a market where the quality of voice-acting in indie games is often lacking, The Suicide Of Rachel Foster is at the top of it’s game thanks to these two. Graphically, again, it does what it does well. It’s hard to find faults, to put it plainly. As a psychological horror title that sets out to tell the player the story of Nicole, Irving, and Rachel Foster… It does that job perfectly.
I completed The Suicide Of Rachel Foster in one go. It took about three-and-a-half hours; this might seem a little short to some, understandably, as that’s barely the length of a film. Although, I would argue that it handled the escalating nature of the narrative perfectly. It kept it from becoming stagnant and, like any piece of media of a similar length, I can imagine had pacing at the forefront of it’s design. Below, I want to go into a little more detail on The Suicide Of Rachel Foster wider range of features and, of course, the narrative which marries them all together.
The Suicide Of Rachel Foster Is A Story About Isolation
In many aspects, The Suicide Of Rachel Foster has isolation as one of it’s primary themes. In literal terms, Nicole (the playable protagonist) is isolated. The game’s narrative begins when Nicole travels to The Timberline Hotel, located on one of the many scenic mountainside of Lewis & Clark County in Montana, to do a final survey of the property before selling it.
Much like the cosmic timing of Jack Torrance’s travels to The Overlook in Stephen King’s The Shining, Nicole arrives to The Timberline on the eve of a terrible storm. Unlike Torrance, though, she has a contact on the outside. Rookie FEMA Agent Irving has managed to fashion-together a short-range two-way radio with a wireless telephone in The Timberline and his own line. Nicole doesn’t know enough about phones to argue with his explanation… And, to be honest, neither did I. It’s set in the early nineties, so it’s uncommon but not entirely impossible.
Irving’s initial cause of contact is to actually warn Nicole of the incoming storm, which makes sense given his apparent role at the Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA. Rather than continue her surveying, she offers a defiant “fuck this” to The Timberline and goes to make a swift exit as the snow begins to land. To her surprise, her car keys aren’t on the seat of her car where she left them and the lifting mechanism for the garage door is frozen shut. I know it’s the nineties, but leaving your car keys on your seat seems a little irresponsible.
Anyway, from here it’s just Nicole, Irving, and The Timberline hotel. Irving stays on the line in an effort to help Nicole out and acts as guidance for a lot of the game. The dynamic between the two characters is perfect. You could take any scene, present it, and it would be considered an excellent example of written dialogue. Nicole’s stress and annoyance is palpable throughout the game’s opening sequences and Irving does what he can to alleviate some of this through the radio. Nicole isn’t as isolated as she could be, but as someone who was expecting to be meeting a lawyer… She’s more alone than she care’s to be.
Looking deeper into the narrative, The Suicide of Rachel Foster also represents a metaphysical isolation in relation to Nicole’s relationship with The Timberline Hotel. Until she was ten, Nicole lived in The Timberline Hotel with her parents as they ran the place. Right from the off, Nicole repeatedly reinforces the notion that she doesn’t want to be back and her being stuck there due to the storm is the worst-case scenario. Nicole has isolated her memories of The Timberline Hotel and repressed them. For a long time, there isn’t any answer as to why Nicole hates being back so much. It appears to mainly be due to her father, Leonard, as we soon discover that she left with her mother abruptly when she was ten… But he stayed.
Story Spoilers Ahead, Skip Down A Couple Paragraphs If You Don’t Want To Know The End!
Leonard’s isolation in The Timberline, following on from Nicole and her mother’s departure, is the third representation of isolation in The Suicide of Rachel Foster‘s narrative and by-far the most intriguing.
As you continue through the game’s narrative, the mystery surrounding Rachel Foster’s suicide becomes more and more a focus for Nicole. Irving reluctantly guides her through her investigations and Nicole starts to suspect that that Leonard is involved. This leads her to a number of chilling discoveries that are ultimately the crux of the game’s mystery. Some of them are explained… While others aren’t.
During her time at The Timberline, Nicole learns that Leonard had a relationship with Rachel Foster. She had learning difficulties, to a degree, and Leonard acted as a Speech Therapist for her throughout her teens. Then, he got her pregnant. The Suicide of Rachel Foster isn’t about a suicide at all… Nicole’s mother murdered Rachel and then left with Nicole, leaving Leonard to fester in his mistakes. However, this is not quite his doing…
In the game’s final moments, Irving reveals himself to be Rachel’s brother. Nicole has a hard time remembering him, as she has shunned most of her memories from that period of her life, but is quick to clock on to the situation. In Leonard, and Irving’s, isolation in The Timberline Hotel the two became enthralled in the mystery surrounding Rachel. Neither of them knew the truth, but knew they needed Nicole’s help to uncover the crucial missing details.
For the most part, the series of events Nicole experiences is by design. However, there is enough of the supernatural that makes you think otherwise. Halfway through your stay, you discover that a “Ghost Hunting” team has visited The Timberline in the past… However, an exploration of their equipment soon reveals that they left in a hurry. This, when coupled with the scribblings of Leonard, seems to reveal that Rachel’s presence is still there in some form.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is not a scary game. Especially when you compare it to other games in the genre. However there is enough of a supernatural element that does put you on edge. There is the odd, strange, noise while walking around… Not quite prominent enough to warrant a full investigation but enough to keep you tense. At some points, doors move on their own. They don’t always close… But just drift slightly. Again, it’s enough to keep you alert but not quite enough to make you fully afraid.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a perfectly-executed display of narrative design that marries the theme of isolation with a psychological horror that sprinkles in enough supernatural events that forces you to question whether what you know is really the truth.
There May Only Be A Few Features, But They Work Well
Aside from the “walking simulator” gameplay, The Suicide of Rachel Foster has little in the way of additional gameplay features. There are instances where you can dictate the direction of conversation, picking between two responses, but there is little to say that this actually impacts the outcome of the narrative. However, when combined with the other features, it benefits the interactivity of The Suicide of Rachel Foster massively.
Scattered throughout The Timberline there are objects you can interact with: a common-enough feature for the genre. A lot of the time, they are meaningless additions that are included to add depth into the world. However, when Nicole can interact properly with one… It’s undoubtedly done with a benefit to the goal of the narrative design. The items that you do interact with throughout The Suicide of Rachel Foster work well. The Dynamo Torch continually requires charging, the Parabolic Microphone feels finely tuned. It’s impressive how these items feel as if they have a weight in Nicole’s hands… You get drawn into the game so much you actually feel the strain of continually squeezing the dynamo mechanism. Unfortunately, though, this leaves the rest of the objects feeling empty. Nicole doesn’t even offer a witty comment about any of them. Ultimately, their addition pulls you away from the gripping narrative slightly… They are an unnecessary addition, yet add the depth The Timberline needs.
Aside from the “equip-able items” you pick up throughout The Suicide of Rachel Foster, the Map Feature is perhaps my favourite addition to the title. I don’t really know how else to describe it other than the fact that it is just a floor plan map of The Timberline Hotel. There are scribbled notes which, if you zoom in, you can see tell you which staircase goes where. If you need a room on a different floor, like the image below, you have to change which map page you’re looking at. The map forces you to orientate yourself and learn the layout of The Timberline, much like Nicole is re-learning it. For the most part, the well-crafted flow of the narrative means you don’t need to check your objectives. However, when you do, you can find it scrawled on a page from a notepad tucked under Nicole’s thumb.
The addition of a manual map system is a small one, but when it works with the other features added to The Suicide of Rachel Foster it creates an authentically interactive experience which pulls you in and enhances the otherwise-simplistic gameplay. You become involved with The Timberline Hotel… Or perhaps, you always were.
The Sound Design Throughout Rivals Triple-A Titles
When playing a first-person, psychological horror game… Immersion is everything. The Suicide of Rachel Foster excels at fostering immersion in a variety of ways. The interactive environment, the view-bob when Nicole walks, the lack of a HUD… It all works together to create one of the better immersive experiences I’ve had in recent game-playing. However, the one thing which really elevates this experience from “good” to “great” is the sound design.
Every aspect of the sound design in The Suicide of Rachel Foster is fantastic in relation to The Timberline Hotel. Nicole’s footsteps change as you change surface, something I’ve found is overlooked in some indie games, the doors feel like they have weight when you open and close them. The effort that has gone into the realism of the sounds in-game pays off.
The only thing I could criticise in regards to the sounds of The Suicide of Rachel Foster is the background music. It isn’t bad by any account; it’s obvious that it has been included at certain parts to help foster the desired tone or emotion in the player. However, I just found it wholly unnecessary. It didn’t take away from my experience playing, but I can’t say it added anything either. It wasn’t the best use of music to foster immersion I’ve ever experienced and that’s a shame.
Graphically, The Suicide of Rachel Foster Is Solid
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a nice-looking game. The lighting in The Timberline Hotel’s various environments is good, but not necessarily as dynamic as it could be. However, there are moments where a torch is needed to see things clearly. The lack of total darkness is forgivable, but does keep it from becoming particularly terrifying.
That aside, the level of environmental detail in The Suicide of Rachel Foster is commendable. The Timberline feels lived in and, more importantly, like a real place. One detail I enjoyed is the fact that you can read everything in-game without necessarily having to interact with it. There are some cases where you can pick up a notebook or look at a letter, however you can also read the text when it’s laid out in front of you on the table. Of course, there are little things like repetitive book sleeves but these do little to take away from the overall impressive nature of the detail.
One thing that I initially found a little odd, but in the end appreciated, was the blurred vignette that the game has you playing through. You might not be able to fully appreciate it from the screenshots above, but The Suicide of Rachel Foster focuses your attention in a very clever way. Much like any game in the genre, your focus should be where you’re looking. Then, much like any contemporary horror flick, when something happens on the edge of your Field of Vision… You jump. Or, at least, that’s the intention. The Suicide of Rachel Foster has a very subtle blurring on the edges of the screen that naturally pulls your focus into the centre of the screen. It makes you suspicious of the edges of your screen and at times it makes you question whether you’re seeing things that aren’t there. Or, at least, things that you didn’t expect.
Additionally, I found the animation in The Suicide of Rachel Foster to be unexpectedly smooth. In other indie-developed first-person psychological horror games there are times when the animation can feel a little janky. They look a little off… Uncanny, almost. In a way, it’s like the animations in the earlier Telltale Games, like The Walking Dead. They’re not bad, but… Something is off. To my surprise, The Suicide of Rachel Foster was incredibly smooth. The smattering if side-on cutscene-like shots, like pictured above, really allow you to appreciate this. They often only last a second or two, showing Nicole opening a door or unlocking a lock, but they look good.
Another thing that The Suicide of Rachel foster does right is avoid faces. This isn’t to say there isn’t any pictures in the game, as there are quite a few, but they never show a face in-game. Rather, every shot that isn’t from Nicole’s point-of-view is shot from the torso down. It’s smart and works well in two ways. Firstly, it avoids the awkwardness that can sometimes come up when a facial animation is a little sloppy. Even in games as illustrious as Ghost of Tsushima, there are times when I find myself a bit disappointed in the facial animations of the characters. In indie games, this is almost always a lot worse. If uncanny is what you’re going for, then it’s great. But, when this isn’t the case… It is off-putting. The Suicide of Rachel Foster avoids this possible issue expertly. Secondly, the lack of any facial shots (Phrasing! I know.) helps to keep you immersed in the game. You never see what Nicole looks like. All you know is that she’s a woman, she has short-but-shaped nails, and is wearing a red plaid over-shirt. That could be you with the right manicure. I can imagine this might bother some small-minded people out there, however, I find that the avoidance of a face helped to immerse me further in the mysteries of The Timberline Hotel: The true focus of the game.
Final Thoughts On The Suicide of Rachel Foster?
The one major criticism I have on The Suicide of Rachel Foster is the walking speed. It’s painfully average. There is a left-shift “speed walk” option which I found myself using continuously. What is annoying is that Nicole walked as fast as normal people walk. For the opening segments of the game, it made sense. She was inspecting The Timberline Hotel, regretting her decision to come. She wasn’t necessarily in an agitated or hurried state. However, as you begin hunting the ghosts that haunt the hotel… Uncovering the truth… It became almost comical at how relaxed you could play the game. At the pinnacle of the tension and fear of The Suicide of Rachel Foster, you could simply stroll about. I know it seems petty to pick up on in the grand scheme of things, but the need to continually have left-shift held down was a bit inconvenient. It was far from game-breaking, though, and the speed-walking pace was more then adequate for exploring The Timberline… But, in the effort of giving an objective judgement of The Suicide of Rachel Foster, it wasn’t ideal.
To conclude… There are aspects of The Suicide of Rachel Foster that exceed expectations; the quality of it’s narrative and audio design, voice-acting performances… It’s truly at the highest level. However, when you compare this to the rest of the game you’re reminded that there are a few aspects of it that are painfully average.