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For the most part, the majority of video games I’ve played usually stray pretty far from the lines of realism when it comes to the storyline. Last year however, I was introduced to What Remains Of Edith Finch, and it has since become a personal favorite. It was a gripping story, and while slightly bending the concept of real life situations, still focused heavily on subject matter (mental health in this case) that affects many individuals. Developers One-O-One Games latest PC port to console, The Suicide Of Rachel Foster, follows suit and focuses on rather sensitive content at its core, all while trying to mend both character building and aspects of the paranormal into its slower burn of a story.
Our protagonist, Nicole, discovers that her father had an affair with a teenage girl by the name of Rachel. The traumatic events led to relationships turning to shambles, and sadly, a young woman ending her life. Both Nicole and her mother decide to leave The Timberland; a large remote hotel the family once run together, and try to carry on after dealing with the emotionally devastating events at hand. Fast forward ten years and both of her parents now deceased, Nicole has been tasked with returning to the place where she swore to forget to help with auditing the hotel in preparation for selling. Making way in the midst of an upcoming and rather dangerous snow storm, our protagonist finally reaches her destination, only to find herself snowed in for an unknown amount of days. Along with the help of a faceless, but seemingly friendly individual via radio by the name of Irving, Nicole embarks on what seems to be a fairly straight forward task. However the walls of this old decaying hotel hold many dark secrets, and some of them begin to pour out during her visit.
Now, it’s difficult to really dive deep into much more of the story without spoiling the games main premise or twists as discovery is the main attribute to the story at hand. But I’ll touch on it lightly. Shortly after her arrival to the Timberland Nicole begins to find clues around the hotel, revealing that the tragic events which had occurred a decade ago may not have played out exactly as everyone had thought. Newspaper clippings and messages in books all nod towards the idea that Rachel is alive and still roaming around the hotel. The game focuses very heavily on exploration and interaction with objects. The dialogue between Nicole and Irving is implemented right from the start, and serves as the narration throughout the entire game. You won’t be experiencing jump scares or chase sequences; this is a walking simulator focused on telling a story to the players.
My first initial steps into the echoing halls of the Timberland (where the duration of the game takes place) made me feel like I was in the hotel from The Shining initially. The Timberland is filled with long hallways with limited lighting, walls plastered with pictures from years ago, and retro colored carpets. As unpopulated and eerie as the place was, I felt I was going to meet someone around every corner. Every room and floor of the building was filled with detail and a fair amount of objects to interact with and observe, though the majority of them weren’t relevant to the story mostly serving as environment filler. Nonetheless, as often as the obvious signs of deterioration were shown, the hotel still seemed to breathe life throughout its haunting corridors. Minor performance disruptions were present at times, but didn’t alter the gaming experience whatsoever.
Minimal music and amplified background noises created an unnerving atmosphere throughout the game. Creaking floorboards and window shutters that rattled almost constantly had me bracing myself for the unexpected the majority of the time. I was really caught off guard later on when the unknown voices start whispering and I can say playing with a headset definitely increased the creep factor. No jump scares were present however, but the developers did a proper execution of filling the players with a feeling of uncertainty during the playthrough. The voice acting was a weird mixture. The characters would sound very convincing and engaged at some points, while other times it seemed like they had zero interest in telling the story at all.
Extensive wandering and dialogue between to the two main characters sums up the majority of the gameplay. Roaming the halls of the Timberland felt overwhelming at first due to its size, but players are actually quite limited as to where they can explore. After about an hour, I had pretty much seen everything the game had to offer other than a few areas that open up later on. As mentioned earlier, The Suicide Of Rachel Foster is a walking sim, and given the limitations of places to explore, things began to feel tedious and repetitive very quickly. I spent a fair bit of time backtracking to the exact same rooms or spots and there was no way to avoid this because the story narrates the player to do so. One part for example; I was sent to a specific room in the basement, and found an important item lying on a tool bench. A short amount of time later, I found myself returning to the exact same spot, only to obtain another item that was within inches of the first one. Several other moments in the game played out the same, making me feel like I was in a relay race; running back and forth from point A to B while trying to follow the breadcrumb trail of hints that were leading me to the truth of what’s really going on in this place.
It’s obvious from the start of the game that The Suicide Of Rachel Of Foster’s focused theme is child abuse and the rippled effects that it can have on both the victims, as well as the involved families. Nicole’s father undoubtedly knew his actions were morally wrong, but as the story unveils, the narrating almost felt at times like it forgot that Rachel was only a teenager, perceiving it almost as ”just another traditional love tale with a tragic ending”. Whether this was intended or not on the writing end, it did make for some awkward and uncomfortable spills that really hurt the story at times. I was however completely caught off guard by the big plot twist that awaits players in the final act as well. The pacing of the story is a slow reveal, which normally wouldn’t bother me, but parts just felt unnecessary and out of place. Overall, it does present an interesting concept with some rather impressive visuals and certainly does have its creepy moments, especially further into the game. However, the at times lack of emotion from the characters, as well as some of the forced linear exploration felt like a chore and quickly diminished any means of engagement I had with the story. The Timberland did a fantastic job at grasping my initial attention to uncover its dark secrets, but I felt quite relieved to check out as soon as I could.