I guess I can’t be too surprised that a game called The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a bit of a can of worms. It’s a game that almost made me sick, twice, and for entirely different reasons.
At the outset the story of TSoRF is intriguing. The protagonist, Nicole, reads a letter from her mother, attends her funeral, and then makes the drive up to the family’s snowy hotel to prepare it for sale. She arrives in the middle of a snowstorm, and instead of appraising the property and leaving, she ends up trapped in the Shining-esque setting all alone, with nothing to do but face her family’s ugly past.
The reason the game is unpleasant at the start has little to do with the story though. Playing on an Xbox One X, the first-person viewpoint felt off. I’m not prone to motion sickness, yet I felt a similar swimminess to my first time in VR. If you are prone to motion sickness at all, I would exercise caution with this game. A couple ginger candies and an adjustment period got me through to the end without barfing, but my wife couldn’t watch the game for too long.
The game takes place in the early 90s. Early on, Nicole finds one of those large, old-school cell phones placed curiously on her childhood desk. When it rings, she is greeted by Irving, a local FEMA agent intimately familiar with the hotel, the neighborhood, and the dark cloud hanging over Nicole’s family.
What follows is actually pretty cool and creepy. Nicole navigates the hotel with the help of Irving, and works to uncover the mystery of what happened to Rachel Foster, a childhood friend everyone thinks committed suicide. At this point, the details surrounding the case—which include a sexual relationship between the 16-year-old Rachel Foster and Nicole’s father—are ugly, but it’s easy to give the story the benefit of the doubt. Surely, the game will ultimately condemn Nicole’s father and his obvious child abuse, right?
As layers peel away and darker questions pile up, the hotel reveals false walls, strange sounds, and secret passages. There’s a mood and atmosphere to this game that puts it somewhere in the spectrum of psychological horror games like Silent Hill and P.T., while still showing restraint and staying relatively grounded. Taken as a pure horror experience, I was very much into it.
Motion sickness aside, so far, so good, right? Well, my appreciation of the game quickly deteriorated when I reached the game’s final moments. The ending of The Suicide of Rachel Foster is so thoughtless that it calls the entire story into question. It makes the game almost impossible to recommend, as it seems to excuse the incredibly creepy actions of its men while putting its women through the wringer. It was weird to see a game so clearly inspired by Gone Home and Life is Strange end on such an uncomfortably misogynist note.
I won’t go into detailed spoilers here (there’s already a fantastic breakdown of this game’s issues by Justin Woo on GameCrate), but the ending ruined a game I was enjoying quite a bit. There’s really no getting around it. The mental gymnastics I’d have to do to excuse what the game is clearly saying with its finale are too much.
There’s a version of The Suicide of Rachel Foster that tackles all of the same difficult topics and sticks the landing. Instead of apologizing for a child abuser, or throwing a character’s personality in the trash for a bit of shameless spectacle, TSoRF could have made some small changes and tackled this story with grace. I believe this would have been a game I could recommend in all its ugliness. As it is, I can only suggest a hard pass on this misogynist mess.