Going into The Suicide of Rachel Foster, I wasn't sure what to expect. Having never played the likes of Gone Home or any other similar games in the solve-puzzles-through-exploration genre, I figured I was in for a very different experience than the pew-pew in-your-face action games that I'm more accustomed to playing. Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of having no point of reference was that I was able to approach the game without any bias, and I think that ended up aiding my impression of it.
Produced by Daedalic Entertainment and developed by One-O-One Games - whose only other offering on Steam appears to be a VR ping pong game - The Suicide of Rachel Foster involves a thematically challenging who-dun-it mystery that unfolds within a decrepit mountain lodge called The Timberline.
The game puts players in the role of Nichole, and opens up with an on-screen letter from her dying mother, which quickly and effectively sets the stage for the events to come. We learn that Nichole and her mother fled their home at The Timberline 10 years prior after the family's patriarch, Leonard, has an affair with one of Nichole's classmates - Rachel Foster - that results in an unwanted pregnancy and subsequent suicide. After her mother's burial, Nichole makes the long trek to her former home to fulfill her mother's request that will finally put the family's dark past behind her.
Unfortunately, things don't go according to plan - as they rarely do. Nichole arrives at The Timberline just as a massive snowstorm hits, which, despite her best intentions, renders her stranded at the lodge until the weather subsides. Not long after her arrival, Nichole is contacted by Irvine - a FEMA agent tasked with assisting the lodge in the event of inclement weather cutting it off from the outside world (or something like that). From there, things start to get a little weird. While Nichole seeks to finally be done with her past, it becomes evident that her past isn't quite done with her yet.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster doesn't rely too heavily on mechanics. Rather, players spend the majority of their time exploring the dimly-lit interiors of The Timberline. Over the course of the game's 4-ish hour playtime, Nichole comes into possession of an assortment of tools - such as a wind-up flashlight, audio recorder, and polaroid camera - that come in handy (to various degrees) when searching out the obscured clues and plot points housed within the lodge.
The environment delivers most of the game's exposition, and the majority Nichole's isolation is interrupted by frequent conversations with Irvine. Being that players are frequently expected to wait idly by as Nichole's and Irvine's sometimes awkward conversations play out, it often it felt like I, as the player, was simply along for the ride.while the game delivers its story.
That said, exploration appeared at times to be - whether intended or not - open-ended. At one point, I was instructed to locate the source of a mysterious sound that seemed to be coming from inside the walls. Rather than actually locating the source of the sound, I eventually reached a point where either the game gave up on my search, or the game purposefully sent me on a wild goose chase in hopes that I would eventually stumble onto something entirely unrelated and that would move the plot forward.
Although the game would frequently introduce "choice" into the dialogue between Nichole and Irvine, whether or not you responded one way or the other appeared to be entirely illusory, and I have no evidence that those choices made any substantial impact on the game's narrative. If nothing else, it gives the player an opportunity to shape Nichole and Irvine's interactions, which may or may not lend some superficial heft to the game's final minutes.
Additionally, some dialogue comes off as being a bit awkward and not at all an accurate reflection of how actual humans would communicate with one another. To make things less bearable, the player is often limited to responses that vary between being bad and worse, which results in the player having to endure a train wreck of an exchange between the two characters. For me, this disparity between how I thought Nichole should react to an increasingly alarming situation versus how she actually reacted becomes especially evident in the the third act.
As one would expect out of a game built on Epic's Unreal Engine,The Suicide of Rachel Foster possesses a level of visual polish that successfully instills a heightened measure of dread that - for better or worse - brings The Timberline to life. Even before the game shifts into the realm of paranormal, there is an ever-present uneasiness that permeates the halls, which invites players to anticipate that a jump scare might be around any given corner.
Lighting plays a big role in setting the game's tone, and at times acts as the game's main antagonist - actively working against Nichole to ensure that an ever-present specter of uncertainty looms over the player at all times. At one point, the player is tasked with investigating the generator room after the storm knocks out the lodge's power. Painfully, players are provided with a polaroid camera's flash to intermittently illuminate Nichole's surroundings. If there was ever a good time to nope the fu** out, this was it.
That said, there were moments when the game's considerably spooky premise proved to be at odds with the what's happening on-screen. Throughout my play-through, there were times when textures would not load in until I had already approached them. This, as one might imagine, ended up giving me a false positive that something spooky was afoot, when in reality is was just a missing asset playing catch-up.