A narrative adventure set in the early 90s, The Suicide of Rachel Foster takes place inside an eerily decaying family hotel. Nicole Wilson's family has been torn apart when she was little by her father's past actions, having a creepy affair with 16-year old Rachel Foster, which led to her taking her own life while nine weeks pregnant. Reading through your mother's handwriting notes left for you from her deathbed, she implores you to return to The Timberland Hotel and assess its current condition and sell it. With your father's passing, the hotel is the last haunting memory from your childhood and a man you grew to despise most in this world.
Reaching the seemingly abandoned location, deep within Montana's mountains, Nicole becomes stranded as an unexpectedly heavy snowstorm makes leaving impossible. Although strong-willed, being trapped inside the place her mother and her fled ten years ago, brings up forgotten memories of the past. The massive hotel contains dozens of rooms, hallways, multiple floors, and secret passageways, making it relatively easy to get lost exploring the atmospheric hotel. It's quite clear that the place is in disrepair, a shattered chandelier rests in the middle of the ballroom, the second floor looks rundown with cracked walls and ceilings infested with dangerous mold. A hotel map helps you find specific locations and Nicole's notes that clue you into where you need to go to advance the narrative.
Although the only person in the hotel, you are not alone, thanks to an early cell phone prototype that provides a direct line to a FEMA agent named Irving. Like Campo Santo's Firewatch, Nicole and Irving's relationship starts dismissively and blossoms throughout the four-hour ordeal. During most conversations, you are given two different choice responses, which changes the way the banter plays out between the two of them. Irving serves as your guide, an unattainable ray of hope for survival. At first, you use his knowledge of the location to find something edible to eat and how to stay warm, but as the first hours turn to days, you welcome the warm sensation of connecting with Irving.
Being snowed in at an empty hotel out in the wilderness is a similar plot to one of the best psychological horror films ever made, The Shining. Even when you awake one day to find the power has gone out, and the hallways as black as night, I never felt frightened. The mystery of your family's past is key to the story, but the attempted horror falls flat. There is even one sequence where you watch footage left from a group of ghost hunters that fled the hotel after experiencing an apparition, but the pay off for your character never happens. A couple of flickering lights and unexplained doors that slam does elevate the tension, but it never reaches the level that it should.
Eventually, the game delves deeper into your relationship with your father. With the mother inundated with managing and running the hotel, you have fond memories of Leonard, your father, at least before the incident. Growing up in the hotel, you know every inch of the place, every hiding spot, every crawl space, and passage. Irving begins to pry into the past, bringing up the ghosts that Nicole wanted to forget. The way Nicole remembers Rachel, and how her father's attention was fixated on her growing up is the most disturbing thing in the game. Did you begin to develop resentment towards your father as Rachel look over all of his thoughts? Or was the hatred growing inside of you for her? All of these themes, along with the unthinkable affair and relationship between a 16-year old and someone most likely three times her age, begins to weigh on Nicole's mind.
Playing on Xbox One X, the achievement system seems to be broken. Even after finishing the game and collecting all of the items, not a single one has been unlocked. Looking at the percentage of unlocks, every single one is at 0%, so the issue isn't only affecting me. As you explore rooms, you can pick up and examine objects up close. Sometimes you'll find things to read, and typically similar games will feature a pull out for text, making it much easier to read perfectly formatted and printed on-screen text. Here, that doesn't exist, so you'll need to zoom in close to read handwriting cursive written documents and newspaper clippings. There are times when conversations with Irving go on for quite some time; however, I managed to reach the next location or door while the two of them yapped back and forth. I accidentally prevented the game from triggering the following sequence until I walked back to it well after putting the phone down. I understand requiring you to feel invested in the conversation as it is pivotal to the plot, but I already reached the next spot. Even though the game is only a few hours long, it slows down the already slow pacing in the game.
The complicated issues and themes hinted at in The Suicide of Rachel Foster present a haunting tale of digging up the past based on one's perspective. The start of the game hammers home Nicole's father as the leading cause of the death of teenager Rachel Foster, but when you first reach the hotel, the game's narrative focuses on her survival. Slowly day after day, things unwind, as memories come flooding back. A few plot twists are sprinkled throughout, but nothing should feel like a surprise once they happen if you are paying attention.Note: The Suicide of Rachel Foster was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.