I’ve had The Suicide of Rachel Foster on my Steam wishlist for quite some time — from the retainer imagery, I immediately got The Lovely Bones vibes from it, which was a book that I thoroughly disliked due to the material yet must admit it was memorably written, handling disturbing topics in a way that has been involuntarily imprinted into my brain. The Lovely Bones being about the rape and subsequent murder of a young girl told through her own point of view in the afterlife, I went into The Suicide of Rachel Foster blind thinking it would be similar. I was unpleasantly surprised.
Developed by ONE-O-ONE GAMES and published by Daedalic Entertainment, The Suicide of Rachel Foster was initially released on Steam back in February and now released for console on September 9. With a pricepoint of $19.99 for a game that can be completed within a few short hours, The Suicide of Rachel Foster asks players to consider the value of its storytelling above the length of the game, unfortunately falling short on both counts.
Players take on the role of Nicole, a young woman whose life had been torn apart by her 50-year-old father’s decision to groom and rape his 16-year-old student, Rachel, 10 years prior to the game’s events. Having grown up in a small town in Montana, Nicole and Rachel were well-acquainted with each other — even friends despite personal disputes — and word traveled quickly about Nicole’s father, Leonard, and his illicit affair with a child. Shit hit the fan when Rachel discovered she was pregnant, and, as the story goes, that’s when she committed suicide, and Nicole and her mother, Claire, decided to leave Leonard, Montana, and the family hotel behind.
10 years later, Nicole returns to the family hotel after both her parents have passed in an effort to sell the property. Unfortunately for Nicole, she’s arrived during the state’s worst snowstorm in recent history, her lawyer held back on account of the snow. Luckily for her, a FEMA agent, Irving, has conveniently wired a chunky cellular phone found in her childhood bedroom to be a walkie-talkie of sorts, and as she wanders around the hotel looking for a way to start the furnace, find food, and other odd quests, she has a friendly voice keeping her company.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster takes the term “walking simulator” quite seriously — the walking pace is painfully slow, and for some godforsaken reason the “run” button is L3 instead of any of the free trigger or shoulder buttons. With that being said, the environments are an absolute delight — chock full of items to pick up and information to be gleaned from their existence and placement. At first, I was genuinely thrilled to walk into any given room and pick up every single item before I realized there was no reason to do so save for personal enjoyment. For some reason I could interact with every single cleaning product under the sun, but couldn’t turn on the shower after fulfilling the first day’s quest of turning on the furnace to take said shower. Coupled with the aforementioned slow walking pace, exploration was seemingly encouraged, then abruptly discouraged, even punished by way of wasting time.
The atmosphere of The Suicide of Rachel Foster is certainly chilling; although there are no jumpscares, players will feel sufficiently unsettled throughout the experience. Part of this is due to the design — the game has taken a page out of The Shining, as evidence with the carpets — but also because the hotel itself is a naturally unfamiliar place to people in general. Such a large, long-forgotten building out in the middle of nowhere has plenty of creaky floorboards and trees tapping at the windows. The tension in the air was almost palpable, and in that sense, The Suicide of Rachel Foster did a decent job of creeping me out.
The storyline in The Suicide of Rachel Foster goes from predictable, then choppy/derailed, then to downright irresponsibly sloppy. If you were planning on playing this game at any point, I encourage you to stop reading here and just understand that the developer did not adequately handle the material they were working with, thus earning the 1.5/5 star rating. For everyone else wanting to know the justification behind it, read on…
…alright, spoilers ahead! On day two, you’re encouraged to forage for food, and Irving suggests you check the freezer. You know the one, the walk-in freezer where you’re definitely going to get trapped in and there won’t be any cell reception, but because it’s day two, you’re going to be spookily saved. Like come on, even I hate horror games and I could see that coming from a mile away. Yep. That happened. Then you find a lot of weird clues that Nicole desperately wants to convince Irving that they have a point, like a tube of lipstick that should have dried up a long-ass time ago or some tapes that definitely indicate a ghost was there by way of super cheesy acting. All of this happens in-between some seriously choppy editing, where you’ll be in the middle of something and BOOM. Next day. Huh?
All of this comes to a head when it’s revealed that Irving is Rachel’s brother, tortured by Rachel’s death for the past 10 years. So, you know, he decided to lure Nicole out to the hotel because Rachel’s ghost won’t tell him the full story around her death. Nevermind that Irving went out of his way to make friends with Leonard, the man who seduced his mentally challenged teenage sister, impregnated her, and was (in)directly the cause of her death — nah, we gotta loop Nicole, the innocent bystander, in on this. Why? Because Nicole was jealous of the attention her father gave Rachel, so that naturally means Nicole is to blame for the death.
To make matters more fucked up, Nicole has this weird… Stockholm Syndrome? Relationship with her father where she never actually blames him for actively seducing and impregnating her 16-year-old friend — who, I might add, was being tutored by her father due to her learning disabilities. She even goes as far as to emotionally defend his honor when Irving suggests Leonard may have made a replica of Rachel’s room in the basement, complete with her retainer case. In the entirety of the game, Nicole never once denounces Leonard’s act of having an extramarital affair with a 16-year-old girl; in fact, no one does.
I was hoping there might be some voice of reason in the climax, but nope — turns out Nicole randomly washes a shirt next to Rachel’s retainer and suddenly remembers some repressed memories. As it would turn out, Nicole’s mother Claire murdered Rachel in a fit of jealousy. Because, you know, when a 16-year-old girl is impregnated by a 50-year-old man, she’s somehow at fault for it. Claire then dumps the body and stages it to be a suicide before hastily leaving Leonard’s ass with Nicole in tow.
What I don’t understand is why Irving defended Leonard’s actions, assuring players that Leonard and Rachel had this “misunderstood romance” going on because Rachel was really “mature for her age.” God, even typing this out gives me the absolute CREEPS — as a former teenage girl, I can’t tell you the number of times gross, older men have decided it was okay to hit on me, one as far as spanking me on the ass with my former stepmom reassuring me “that’s how he says goodbye” (fucking WHAT). This is grooming, this is wrong, and the way it’s presented in The Suicide of Rachel Foster never makes that clear.
If I were to give the developer the benefit of the doubt, we could suggest that no one had enough maturity to place blame where it belonged — squarely on Leonard’s shoulders. Unfortunately, the depth of the storytelling never gave any of the characters any sort of personal growth… except Leonard. Through snooping around his bedroom and office, we saw a man go from a brilliant astronomer to dude who wanted to commune with the dead child he raped. Everyone else got nothing — Nicole was a grouchy asshole who turned on a fucking dime, and Irving pretended to be cool for most of the game until the turntables have… you know. Their banter aimed for Firewatch but we mostly just got cringe, despite the solid voice acting.
Listen, I hate giving bad reviews. It sucks. And it sucks here especially because the game works — it’s free of bugs, it has a lived-in environment, and it’s honestly a great scary game for people who hate scary games. But The Suicide of Rachel Foster is so goddamn irresponsible when it comes to handling the subject matter that you’d be excused if you missed what was happening, which was completely glossing over the fact that a 50-year-old man raped a 16-year-old girl. Need a reminder? How about the fucking retainer. She’s too young.
There will be people who like The Suicide of Rachel Foster because they are able to sidestep away from the whole pedophilia aspect, which is only a possibility because the game itself tries to frame it differently. I can’t tell you how much I initially wanted to like The Suicide of Rachel Foster — I played it twice and watched several let’s plays to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. But the developer really needed to handle these topics better, or at least have one character that didn’t sympathize with the sex offender. Ethical issues aside, the environments were great, but everything else fell flat. There is no recommendation here, only concern.
Final Verdict: 1.5/5
Available on: PC, XBox One, PS4 (reviewed); Developer: ONE-O-ONE GAMES; Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment; Players: 1; Released: September 9, 2020; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of The Suicide of Rachel Foster provided by the publisher.