Published by: Daedalic Entertainment
Developed by: ONE-O-ONE GAMES
When it comes to horror, sometimes the location can be as unnerving as the narrative. And one of the more looming of locales can be found within the hospitality industry. Whether that be the likes of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining or Psycho‘s Bates Motel, many a scary or horrid event can take place therein.
Why am I talking about hotels and horror? Well, in The Suicide of Rachel Foster, both come into play a fair amount. I say fair amount; you are literally trapped inside a hotel the entire length of the game. A rundown, deserted hotel that holds many a dark secret.
But enough establishment, let’s discuss The Suicide of Rachel Foster [which, from hereon out shall be shortened to Rachel Foster for clarity], as played on an Xbox Series X [the code itself, which was generously provided by the developer, is for Xbox One, but cross-generation play is a thing].
A Life Cut Short
You play as a young woman named Nicole Wilson, who returns to her family’s hotel after her mother passes away in a bid to sell the property. Whilst there, a large and dangerous storm sweeps through the Montana mountains where the hotel is situated.
Nicole is stuck, isolated, and alone.
But, she came here with something to do, to keep her word to her mother.
It’s been around 10 years in-game since Nicole was last in the hotel. Her father, the late Leonard McGrath had cheated on Nicole’s mother with a woman the same age as Nicole. That woman was Rachel Foster. Rachel was 16 at the time and pregnant. Rachel eventually committed suicide.
Or did she?
As Nicole is stuck in the hotel, things become more and more unhinged for her. Eventually, she finds a two-way “cell-phone”. On the other end of the phone is a young FEMA agent named Irving Crawford, who acts as Nicole’s would-be guide.
Together, they restore power to the hotel, take notes of the ruination that has befallen the building, and get involved in a conspiracy that blows the official story of Rachel’s suicide wide open. And, with several twists and turns, the story takes a dramatic turn for the worse.
A Love Lost to the Snow
Annoyingly, I can’t divulge more information than that on the story of Rachel Foster as, if you have any intention on playing it, would be ruined. Instead, I’ll focus primarily on other matters of that game; characterisation, setting, sound, atmosphere, and functionality.
Nicole is a (I’m guessing?) 26 year old woman with no past explored beyond what the game divulges. On the surface, I found her to be incredibly rude and obnoxious throughout my playthrough. Her only communications are done via phones, and, as it’s first-person perspective, there’s no actions/gestures in place. Therefore, everything of Nicole’s character must be conveyed through speech.
Annoyingly, as mentioned just, Nicole is an obnoxious cow of a woman. It could be due to the recent passing of her mother, her having to be in a building that caused so much pain to her personally, or that she’s just not nice. But I found myself slowly starting to loathe the girl the longer I was behind her eyes.
On the otherhand, Irving seemed nice. Despite Nicole’s incessant bitchiness towards him, he always maintained a pleasant demeanour. Quite handy really, because had it been solely Nicole, I’d have quit long before the game’s two hour playtime was up.
However, as the game enters its finale, my understanding of the character’s attitudes shifted. I can’t speak too much on it for fear of spoilers, but you soon realise that Irving isn’t as nice as he lets on.
A Building with Secrets in the Walls
In terms of setting, it’s perhaps the most applaudable aspect of the game. Set in the snowy Montana mountains, Rachel Foster takes place in the fictional Timberline Hotel. Much like The Eagle’s Hotel California, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave [insert epic guitar wail!]
The Timberline has been deserted following the events of the story’s past, with Leonard McGrath being, at one point, the hotel’s sole occupant. It has fallen into disarray, with the west wing of the second floor being completely in ruins.
The hotel creaks, the winds howl and ravage the old walls, and the corridors are uncomfortably narrow. Still, the building stands tall, holding the dark secrets of the McGrath and Foster story tight inside its walls.
Whilst the hotel itself does a wonderful job of presenting the thematics of the narrative, it is far less suited if you’re trying to find anything. Admittedly, I have a huge gripe against forced-first-person perspective games. I enjoy being able to see all around me at any one time.
Granted, this builds towards the tension felt inside the Timberline. But when you’re trying to find a certain item to solve the puzzle of “what do I do next?”, it’s really unwelcoming. Yes, there is a map, but I’m not exactly a skilled orienteerer, so that was basically a waste of space.
Thankfully, I did find my way through alright. Eventually. I can’t mark Rachel Foster down too much for the setting as it works for the genre. But for my experience, it could have been better.
I’ve touched upon the hotel creaking previously, but I think I should go into the sound and score a little more. Naturally, given the genre, music is everything to Rachel Foster. When nothing is happening, there is an empty quietness to the building, which adds to the unnerving nature of it. Save for a few creaks, thuds, howls of the wind, or other non-diegetic noises, you feel isolated all the time.
That is unless something is happening that urges you through a narrative spot, of course. Then, it tries its best to ramp up the scary with that atypical ominous tone that ends in the crescendo. Sadly, through my years of horror-movie abuse and film studies education, I found it had no effect on my tension as I knew it was happening.
Still, it was good that the developers incorporated it. Like I said above, given the genre, music is everything! A positive note, I was playing Rachel Foster through my headphones and had to stop listening every so often because I thought somebody was in the house with me. You can never be too careful with this sort of thing. So, in that regard, well done Daedalic and co., you did a good job on the little noises seeming real.
Is it just me, or does that carpet seem to be…shining?
Which leads me on nicely to Rachel Foster‘s atmosphere; aside from the constant feeling of being isolated, I found myself getting bored at times. Thankfully, it’s a short game so it didn’t drag on too long, but the interaction with objects was limited, and when you get passed the initial bluster of wind, everything seems to be too quiet. Like, you’re waiting for something to happen, quiet.
And, frustratingly, there never really seems to be anything that ever happens to necessitate that quietness. There are no jumpscares, no “did you see that?” shadows moving down the hall. Just Nicole in the hotel. Which is a fair bit of a let-down really. I know Rachel Foster is more of a psychological thriller than pure horror, but the two are so closely linked that mutual genre conventions are commonplace.
Her Mind if Tiffany-Twisted…
And lastly, I want to talk about the gameplay mechanics/functionality. There are some light puzzle elements to Rachel Foster: you pick up a screwdriver to fix this, there’s a camera that provides a light-source whilst you’re looking for something in the dark, etc. However, aside from the cell-phone, [which you can’t use manually], and the screwdriver [which is used for one cutscene], there is no use for anything else you pick up. The dynamo-torch and camera are both picked up within the space of five minutes of one another, rendering them obsolete. Plus, the darkness isn’t even that much of a problem wherein you even need a source of light. And, as mentioned prior, the map is only handy if you know how to read one. If you suck at orienteering to start off with, you’re screwed here.
She Got the…Dodge Benz – Wait, Nevermind
Nothing seems “easy” to use, either. Like, getting the map up is as simple as pressing the Y button [on Xbox], but then you can only look at one of the four floors. You can’t zoom in on the map, and there’s no marker to tell you “you are here”.
The dyno-torch is lit up by pressing RT [on Xbox], but you can’t use it as a real one and power it up for long usage; it will light up and almost immediately dim itself out until you press RT [Xbox] again. A real dyno-torch should allow you to charge up the battery to be used for as long as you’d like, not just for ~one second. And the not-Polaroid Polaroid camera is as useful. You press RT [you know what I’m going to say] to take a picture [but there’s no film in it, so a photograph won’t get developed], and it flashes. Then you have to wait for it to unwind itself so you can flash again.
Or you could use the aforementioned dyno-torch that you pick up not five minutes after acquiring the camera to light the way. Or just use your fucking eyes, because it isn’t even darkness wherein you’re unable to find your way around.
Sorry, I’m ranting.
My Final Thoughts…
I think that leads me on nicely to my conclusion. I was looking forward to Rachel Foster. The idea of it intrigued me, and it wasn’t the typical sort of thing I would normally opt for [yes, Darren, there were no cats in this one].
However, despite a promising pretence and a narrative that helped pull me through it, I just didn’t enjoy my time within the halls of the Timberline. I got lost a couple of occasions and had to (I’m afraid to say) look up the answers on Auntie Google. That was less my incompetence, and more that it simply isn’t always clear what you should be doing next. At the offset, I found myself traipsing back and forth searching for the cell-phone that was in Nicole’s bedroom, but wasn’t obvious as it didn’t actually ring until I went back inside the room.
It’s a shame as well because Rachel Foster clearly as some Shining inspiration going on. And when you aim that high, you better be damn sure you don’t miss. I found myself hating the building I was stuck inside owing to its borderline confusing layout, and loathing Nicole for being such a bitch. Must say though, there are one or two saving graces to the game, but you’ll have to experience them for yourself to see what they are.
Oh, and another gripe is that Rachel Foster does that thing where the voice-actors say one thing and the subtitles don’t read the same thing. Man, that really grinds my gears. It’s a petty thing, but I dislike whenever I notice it, and I always notice it!
The Scores on the Doors
Overall, I give Rachel Foster 5/10. It’s an okay game for what it is. It’s short and has a great narrative in play that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear was from an actual movie or TV series. However, the uselessness of the items, the awkwardness to the location [whether or not you think that’s an appropriate thing for the genre is up to you], not to mention Nicole’s presentation just left a horrid taste in my mouth. I’m grateful that it’s so short. There are better psychological thriller/horrors out there, but I’d argue none handle such a narrative as this one so well.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster Review
- Overall - 5/105/10
+ The story is definitely the best aspect of the game, and it is handled so well considering the subject matter
+ The atmosphere feels appropriate, more so when played whilst wearing headphones
+ Short game length is about right for the genre
— Nicole is presented as being horrible and really unlikeable
— The hotel is a confusing mess to navigate around
— Items picked up are useless for a good portion of the game
— Objectives can be vague
— The story will be obvious to you if you have even a passing knowledge of the genre
— The “tension building” points don’t do anything in regards to genuinely raising the tension