Horror isn’t a genre I generally gravitate towards. Whether it’s movies or games, I’m not a fan of gore or jump scares, and I usually don’t enjoy the sensation of being scared out of my wits. But I have been known to get down with a game or film that puts more of a focus on creeping you out than showing you severed heads and buckets of blood. For my tastes, less is more when it comes to horror. In The Suicide of Rachel Foster, developer One-O-One Games attempts to scare the bejeezus out of players not by showing them unimaginable horrors, but by leaving it up to the player to imagine what might be lurking around the next corner.
The game tells the story of Nicole, a woman returning to the remote mountain lodge that her family owned in an effort to have the property assessed for it’s value and sold now that both of her parents have passed away. 10 years prior, Nicole and her mother left the property behind after discovering that her father had an affair with a young woman Nicole’s age who later committed suicide.
After arriving at the lodge though, a snowstorm leaves her trapped at the property with her only communication with the outside world being Irving, a FEMA agent whom she can communicate using a satellite phone. Alone and with nothing but time on her hands, Nicole begins to dig into her father’s belongings and finds evidence that maybe there’s more to the story of her father’s infidelity and the young woman’s death. If that setup wasn’t creepy enough, Nicole begins to hear sounds coming from around the hotel and experiences things that seem to indicate that she may not be alone in the hotel after all.
As a fan of the 1st person narrative adventure genre (or walking simulator), I was immediately drawn in by the atmospheric and detailed environments. The run down hotel has a great sense of place to it, with details such as moldy wallpaper and dusty boxes full of items packed away when the place was shut down. While staying at the hotel, Nicole spends much of her time in the Master Suite, where she and her parents lived before leaving a decade ago. Her father left her old room exactly as it was back then, with her teenage posters on the wall and trinkets on the dresser. The details in the environment do a great job of telling the story and it makes the hotel itself as much of a character as the people who lived there.
And when the narrative of a game is told almost primarily through a conversation between two people, there’s a lot riding on the quality of voice acting from the two main characters. Thankfully the actors were up to the task and do a very good job of portraying the two strangers. Kosha Engler (Victoria, Horizon: Zero Dawn) plays Nicole and does a stand up job as the woman trying to move on from a painful past, and Christopher Ragland (Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine… yep) portrays Irving, the young man who is trying to help guide Nicole through her unplanned extended stay. The story could have really suffered if the acting wasn’t up to snuff, thankfully that wasn’t the case.
As I explored the dilapidated floors of the hotel, reporting anything unusual that I found to Irving, it reminded me of what is probably my favorite game in this genre, Firewatch. It features the same sense of isolation while trying to put together the pieces of a mystery and forming a connection with the only contact you have on the other end of a radio. It’s a great game to be compared to, even if the characters and story don’t quite live up to that game’s precedent.
As the days tick by, and Nicole spends more and more time alone in the hotel, things become increasingly tense as sounds and disturbances lure her into exploring even deeper into the depths of the property. These sounds are a big part of the sense of unease that the game creates and I highly recommend a good pair of stereo headphones to accentuate the experience. As I crept down the dark hallways, every creak of the floorboards had me spinning around to see if someone was behind me. And it sent chills up my spine trying to figure out if the sound I just heard was a gust of wind through a broken window or a whispered voice calling out to me. There were near constant goosebumps, especially in the latter half of the game.
One problem I did have while exploring the hotel was consistently getting myself lost. I generally have a terrible sense of direction in all respects, so it doesn’t help that so many of the hallways in the hotel look the same. You do have a map to check, but without it telling you your current location, it didn’t really help unless you knew exactly where you were. The objectives are were also sometimes a bit vague, even though they give you a bit of a clue written on the map. A couple of times I found myself just wandering until I happened on where I was supposed to go.
Like any good scary story, a lot of it comes down to pacing, and the game does a really good job of drip feeding you the scares over the course of it’s roughly 4 hour campaign. Just when you are starting to let your guard down a bit, something will happen to send a chill up your spine. The game isn’t about big jump scares though, instead creating an almost constant sense of discomfort.
As I reached the climax of The Suicide of Rachel Foster, I was a little disappointed in how the game wraps up. While I very much enjoyed the story they were telling, the ending just didn’t land with the emotional punch that I think they were going for. The final scene in particular left me scratching my head more than anything. It is also definitely worth saying that you should tread carefully if you might be sensitive to some of the subject matter. The story of a man having an affair with a 16 year old girl who later commits suicide is pretty heavy stuff, and the game doesn’t hold back.
If you’re looking for a spooky good time, The Suicide of Rachel Foster delivers with a creepy good ghost story that may not have you jumping our of your seat but will definitely leave you holding your blanket a little bit tighter when you go to bed.