If you enjoy a good walking simulator—backed by a gripping narrative with light puzzles—then you may want to consider playing The Suicide of Rachel Foster. Usually, these types of games don’t entice me to play, due to the slow-paced movement and lack of stimulating fast-paced action. The movement in these games is slow, yes, that’s true; however, everything accomplished within the game is done so with purpose—to add to the overall experience. That is what makes it worthwhile—the experience.
In very brief terms—so as not to detract from the experience for those who have not played it yet—the game follows the story of Nicole, who reluctantly needs to return to her father’s hotel after his passing. She is there to assess the damage to the long-abandoned hotel and collect anything she wants to keep, as she intends to sell it and be done with its (and her family’s) troublesome history. From the moment she steps into the place, she is slowly drawn into an investigation about what happened to a girl named Rachel and her family, and how things ended up the way they did. Her reluctance to be there fades, and she decides to stay to discover how past events unfolded—out of curiosity.
Firstly, there is the literal movement of the protagonist to discuss. With an extremely slow walking pace—and not much faster “jog”—it feels like it would take forever to walk from one end of the hotel to the other. But, that is the point. The game intends for you to take it in slowly. To observe and pick up items, and read the little notes and details left around. This is enjoyable to do, as the objects and environment are high resolution, and the game’s graphical fidelity and artistic direction are stunning.
That is where the game shines: its artistic direction. To describe this game would be to say that it’s a mix of Firewatch, The Shining, and Gone Home. It resembles Firewatch in the way that you have communication with a source outside of the hotel—you come to know him as Irving, an agent from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and he is the only connection Nicole has with the outside world who is attempting to help her during her stay. Much like Gone Home, the game has a story that is family-oriented and leaves the protagonist there to piece previous events together with what they can observe in the environment. And, the reference to The Shining is definitely a visual homage, down to the first-level hallway in the hotel—which bears a somewhat creepy resemblance.
While the game doesn’t outright describe itself to be part of the horror genre, there are definitely times where I would have assumed otherwise. The use of low lighting in combination with the eerie sounds of the microphone in the game, or even the ticking of old clocks and creaking floorboards in the hallway, all provides a setting which gives you that shiver down your spine that something could be there with you. The atmosphere is what reinforces the strength of the narrative, and what helps to deliver it effectively. The game is almost an art piece in itself, with the angles it uses and the way it directs your eyes to focus on what it wants to show you. Combine its design with its use of depth of field, and you get very eerie settings like the one below—all done with the purpose of making the player feel uneasy, which reinforces some of the hard truth’s Nicole will later learn.
As per it’s title, it’s clear the game deals with mature subject matter, but it does so in a sophisticated way. There is a lot of symbolism here, with Rachel’s retainer being one of the objects in the game used symbolically throughout—representing both Rachel as an innocent child and, through its shape, a butterfly indicative of her freedom. As many twists and turns as there are within the narrative, some of them are definitely tropes within the genre which the player will most likely be able to see coming. In any case, the game should be approached with a serious mindset if the player wants to get the most effective experience out of its artistic composition, and what I think the developers intended the experience to be.