The Suicide of Rachel Foster
Content Warning: Due to the nature of the game being reviewed, this article will mention sensitive topics including suicide, pedophilia, child grooming, and abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a walking simulator. The player character is a woman named Nicole Wilson who, following the death of her father Leonard, returns to her childhood home-slash-family hotel to set his affairs in order. Unfortunately for her, she is trapped at the hotel by a blizzard, forcing her to stay there and confront the past that caused her and her mother to flee in the first place: Leonard’s “affair” with a sixteen-year-old girl (the titular Rachel Foster) that resulted in her impregnation and subsequent suicide.
It’s an intriguing premise, to be certain, and one that I think could have been excellent if handled properly. As you might have surmised from my word choice, however, Rachel Foster does not handle it properly. The issues start almost immediately, with Nicole’s dialogue coming across as stiff and unnatural both when she is speaking to herself and when she is speaking to disembodied-voice-companion-character Irving. Initially, Nicole is somewhat hostile to Irving, which is understandable given that she is very vocal about not wanting to be back in the hotel after the trauma of her past, but the relationship between the two of them quickly warms and soon enough they’re trading witty banter and friendly jabs. Nicole’s shift in attitude feels completely unbelievable to me, especially as it carries over into how she approaches other aspects of the situation and softens her attitude toward her pedophile father. In fact, as the game goes on it feels like she keeps forgetting that her father was in fact a pedophile because she often speaks warmly of him and seems to have fond memories of their time together.
While I recognize it’s not uncommon for people with bad parents to have complex feelings towards them, it genuinely doesn’t feel like that’s what’s happening here so much as Nicole’s feelings are simply inconsistently written. On top of having a weak emotional backbone, the story of Rachel Foster is largely incoherent by the end. The conclusions drawn and big emotional reveals seemingly lack any connection to any other events in the game, not to mention inconsistencies such as Nicole referring to Irving’s “mysterious father, who you only sort of mentioned” when in fact Irving had never mentioned his father at all before that point.
Story aside, the game isn’t particularly well constructed from an interactivity standpoint either. The layout of the hotel is confusing in a way that is not only tedious to navigate but which causes the player to question why many of the rooms exist in the first place. Though the environment looks good graphically, so much of the hotel feels like unutilized areas with nothing to interact with or notice that will provide deeper insight into the narrative, which is the core identity of the walking simulator genre. Furthermore, I encountered a number of glitches, from a flashlight not working to getting stuck in doorways and having to restart from the last autosave, which only occurs at the beginning of chapters. In a more compact game, this would not be so much of an issue, but given that Rachel Foster is based around unskippable conversations and needlessly slow traversal, it grates.
In the end, the gameplay gripes are secondary, because nobody plays a walking simulator – and I want to be clear I do not use that term derisively – for the mechanics of it, but the story simply does not make this one worth picking up. The degree of sensitivity with which the writers approach the story is… adequate, I suppose, but that does not change the poor construction of it. If you want a game that tells a nuanced, emotional story about coming to terms with one of your parents undeniably being a monster, I’d look somewhere else.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is inferior to other games like it in just about every meaningful way.