In 2013, The Fullbright Company released Gone Home and popularized the “walking simulator” genre in the process. Since the runaway success of Gone Home, many other games have attempted to emulate it, though few have reached the same heights. The Suicide of Rachel Foster is the latest walking simulator game to follow the popularity of Gone Home, but its imitation is less subtle than most, which is just one of the game’s downfalls.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a tale of two plays. The first half of the game is engaging, interesting, and downright creepy. The second half is boring, tedious, and potentially problematic. The Suicide of Rachel Foster will disappear when a developer realizes that developers are simply copying Gone Home, effectively absorbing all the tension and atmosphere from the proceedings. There are no stakes, no jump scares, and nothing for players to invest in or succeed at besides some confusing geometry. Anyone who played Gone Home can spot The Suicide of Rachel Foster’s “twists” coming a mile away, and so the story stops being a fun mystery and getting to the end becomes a chore.
Besides borrowing liberally from Gone Home, The Suicide of Rachel Foster throws some Firewatch and The Shining into the mix for good measure. In the game, players control a character named Nicole, who is summoned to her family’s old hotel in the Montana wilderness so she can sell it. The hotel is in the mountains, and just like Jack Torrance’s family was trapped in the Overlook Hotel in The Shining because of a bad winter storm, so is Nicole.
The Firewatch inspiration comes into play when Nicole meets a FEMA employee named Irving, who communicates with her using a bulky 90s cellphone. Irving and Nicole talk constantly, to the point that they don’t even want to stop talking. Every few seconds, Nicole puts the phone back to her ear to talk to Irving about something, and unlike Firewatch, the two don’t have an interesting conversation.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster suffers from a dull script, voice acting performances, and characters that are impossible to like. There’s almost no character development that occurs in the game to make players care about anything that happens to Nicole or her relationship with Irving, and that disconnect makes any and all attempts at emotional impact fall flat.
Since walking simulator games are almost all about storytelling, it is absolutely necessary for them to deliver a compelling narrative. Sometimes they do it expertly, like the aforementioned Gone Home or games like What Remains of Edith Finch. The Suicide of Rachel Foster, meanwhile, delivers one of the most generic ghost stories possible, with predictable plot twists and some exploration of problematic themes that may make some gamers really uncomfortable.
Sometimes horror games can make players feel anxious by scaring them, but The Suicide of Rachel Foster achieves this by taking a unique stance on child grooming. It is revealed early on that the titular Rachel is having an affair with Nicole’s father Leonard, who is twice if not three times Rachel’s age at the time of their relationship. There’s nothing wrong with video games dealing with mature themes like this, but the way things are handled here just wouldn’t work in any medium. The game appears to take the stance that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Rachel and Leonard’s relationship. No one in the game seems to recognize this as child abuse, outside of a letter calling Leonard a pedophile (though that is shrugged off as “slander” by Nicole). It’s even romanticized to a point. It’s weird.
The last half of the game is where all the weird dialogue that justifies Rachel and Leonard’s relationship takes place, and that’s part of the reason it’s so hard to get through. Although The Suicide of Rachel Foster can easily be completed in three to four hours, the second half of the game feels like it will never end. This is also due to some excessive backtracking and talking, where players have to stand around and listen to Nicole uncover twists that the player already knows, patiently waiting to interact with next thing they need to click so Nicole can drone. again about something else.
However, the first half of the game is quite different and effective. The hotel gives off serious Shining vibes, and before players think it’s doing the Gone Home trick, they might actually hesitate to explore its dark halls and spooky rooms, just in case someone awaits them. The first half of the game also has some clever gameplay mechanics, such as having players work on a power generator in the dark with nothing but the flash of a Polaroid camera for light.
Nicole will also get her hands on some ghost hunters’ leftover audio equipment, which will lead to players using it to follow a mysterious sound echoing throughout the hotel. Players can continue using these items after their introduction, but there is no real point. These are interesting ideas, but they’re wasted because The Suicide of Rachel Foster isn’t interested in expanding them beyond their initial use.
Beyond the few items that Nicole actually uses, there are a ton of items that players can check out of the hotel aimlessly. These items are all incredibly detailed, and the hotel itself is brought to life with stunningly realistic graphics. Even if the items are useless, there’s something fun about looking at them, especially those firmly rooted in the game’s early 90s setting.
It’s clear by its impressive visuals and polish that the developers really put a lot of work into The Suicide of Rachel Foster. The game is often neglected by the plot, which robs the entire experience of any sense of tension, making the game ineffective as a horror experience. If the developers had leaned more towards the horror elements and thrown out some of the weirder plot themes, The Suicide of Rachel Foster could have used its terrifyingly realistic visuals to deliver an overall more memorable horror game experience. .
Rachel Foster’s Suicide is out now for PC, with a PS4 and Xbox One version also in development. Today Technology reviewed the game on PC.