Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Suicide of Rachel Foster review: a bleak look at grief and the people left behind in its wake

Before you read our The Suicide of Rachel Foster review, we would advise caution as this game looks at disturbing events such as underage sex, murder, suicide and more. There will also be spoilers.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling vulnerable please reach out to someone, whether that be a hotline, friend or family member. And remember, you’re not alone.

Grief is an isolating thing. It affects everyone, but there is a difference between how each individual handles it. When I was sixteen, I experienced the death of a loved one for the very first time. I was lucky, really, some people experience it so much younger. But me? I was sixteen and my grandmother passed away in her sleep.

I had been looking after her for the last few months of her life. I changed her, helped make her food, washed her and made sure she was comfortable before going to bed each night. I remember her holding my hand as she slept once, and the thudding of my heart as I prayed and hoped that she would still be alive the next day. It worked most nights. Until it didn’t.

My story isn’t groundbreaking. I expect everyone has felt grief and the pain it brings. Pain is never clean, but messy and harsh and so, I was enraptured from the very start of The Suicide of Rachel Foster. A story about a young woman who has to delve right back into the memories she had thought tucked away? It sounded like an emotional rollercoaster.

And it was. You play as Nicole Wilson, a daughter who has just received a letter from her mother, telling her that she’s dead and that she wants Nicole to sell the Timberlane. The Timberlane is a hotel that Nicole’s father, Leonard, and her mother, Claire, once owned.

It is also the place where Leonard had an affair with a 16-year-old girl called Rachel Foster.

The Suicide of Rachel Foster review

With her parents both dead, Nicole heads up to the Timberlane to inspect the damage before she can sell the property. The drive up is beautiful and hauntingly familiar to the starting scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s film, The Shining – though, admittedly, with a lot more snow. It’s not the only thing that is so obviously based around the film. There are a number of corridors, rooms, and the questioning of whether there is a supernatural element or not, that makes an appearance in this game.

As to be expected, Nicole finds herself unable to leave The Timberlane due to the snow. What started as a quick trip to finally be rid of something that she’s tried so hard to forget, ends up with her being trapped with her own memories.

However, she isn’t entirely alone. FEMA agent Irving was informed of her arrival, and is often the voice of guidance that leads Nicole around the hotel. The only downside is, she’s only able to contact him through the phone.

Being stuck in a place that quickly becomes familiar would usually make things become less scary, but the Timberlane is one of the most atmospheric environments I’ve ever witnessed in a video game. It’s an old, crumbling building with mold and rot settling in on almost every surface. Yet every creak, every groan, left me feeling as though it wasn’t Nicole moving at all, but someone watching her. Everything you do feels fraught with danger. Each time you move around the corner, or go to a new place within the hotel, the question of what awaits you is often much more terrifying than the answer itself.

But it isn’t just about how creepy everything is. The Suicide of Rachel Foster lets us delve deeper into the unspeakable, what it can do to a family and the carnage it leaves behind. It doesn’t go into too much detail about the affair of Leonard and Rachel Foster, but it does imply some very unsavoury things such as underage sex, grooming and more. Each new clue makes Nicole feel worse and worse, to the point that she begins to hear whispers and doors being slammed. One of the most heartbreaking moments is when Nicole calls out for Leonard, calling him ‘daddy’ and telling him she’s scared.

It’s always haunting and painful to discover that even the people we love the most are capable of monstrous things, and it’s what The Suicide of Rachel Foster does perfectly. Nicole’s discoveries about her family, ones that she blocked out as a child, feel like a punch in the gut. An awful reminder of the things that she blocked out. What makes this work so well is that, despite all of the terrible things that I know about them, none of the characters fall flat or feel particularly one-dimensional. There are a few cliche lines that’ll make you roll your eyes, but all of the characters are enjoyable and fascinating enough that you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny to find out more about them. Even if what you may find is disturbing to its very core.

I’d like to say that it isn’t all so bleak, but the majority of this game is, in fact, that. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some fantastic, silly moments. Irving’s presence on the phone, and his small, awkward jokes help with not making you feel completely devoid from human contact. Nicole’s reactions are also pretty funny at times, but never enough to completely change the tone of the game.

There’s also a ton of nostalgia too, and most of it but it comes from Nicole’s room that she had when she was a kid. While Irving’s presence can feel like a safety net, I often felt that Nicole’s room was the safest place in the entire hotel.

In her room, Nicole can play her old bass guitar, look at old pictures of her being a hockey champion and can briefly listen to the radio before it gives out. Her old clothes are also there, and the room has mostly been untouched. The feeling of coming home after a long time away was not lost on me, and it was nice to relate to Nicole in another way outside of ‘family kinda sucks’.

Even so, while these moments are fun, it becomes apparent later on in the game that, alongside manipulative, outside forces, Nicole’s mental state starts to digress in a way that is, once again, similar to how Jack Torrence’s does in The Shining. In her official notes, she starts to repeat words and phrases. Is it grief, or something else?

Nicole’s mental deterioration is subtle at first but it becomes more apparent as time goes on that she’s becoming more drawn to the place that she wanted to be rid of only days before. She puts up a Christmas tree inside her master suite for no real reason, and goes through the effort of tidying things away. She sleeps in her childhood bed. It’s heartbreaking to see grief finally catch up to her.

All I know is this: The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a game that will have its praises sung in the same way as Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch thanks to its storytelling, compelling characters, a thrilling atmosphere and mature themes that makes you look at grief and the carnage it leaves behind, in a way that’ll stick with you forever.

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