Before I begin, I want to explain why it’s wrong for adults to have emotional and/or sexual relationships with teenagers. It’s because you’re an adult and they’re a teenager. The concept of an “age of consent” is inherently flawed as it presupposes that because something is legal, it is moral. Now, while I’m certainly not here to be anyone’s moral barometer, I do feel obligated to point this out, as the concept is very much at the core of everything that is wrong with The Suicide of Rachel Foster.
The titular character’s tale is recounted by Nicole, the protagonist whose middle-aged father, Leonard, had an affair with sixteen year old Rachel ten years prior to the game’s beginning. As a result of their tryst, Rachel became pregnant and subsequently committed suicide. The narrative follows Nicole as she returns to her father’s hotel for the first time since those events, and begins to harbour suspicions that there may be more to the young woman’s death than she’d originally believed.
If you’re only interested in the game play aspects involved, then I’ll make it quick. The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a perfectly average walking simulator that doesn’t overstay its welcome in terms of playtime, handles fine mechanically, has perfectly average voice acting, perfectly average dialogue, perfectly average action, a perfectly average setting, and a perfectly average (i.e predictable) conclusion.
There you have it. If you’re able to ignore the fact that the game attempts to excuse and explain a grown man exhibiting and acting upon predatory behaviour towards a teenager less than half his age, it’ll kill a couple hours, give you a couple decent jump scares, and nab you a few trophies. (Editor’s Note: Even if the last one didn’t unlock for the Platinum)
If, however, that premise doesn’t immediately put you off, I should let you know that it gets worse. The game goes to great lengths to insist that this was no simple affair. Leonard was “very much in love” with Rachel. So much so, in fact, that he was obviously willing to put his marriage, and his relationship with his daughter on the line, which brings us to the next issue with tSoRF.
Much of Nicole’s personal journey in the narrative is not about trying to reconcile Leonard as her father from Leonard as a sexual predator whose actions and impulses ultimately caused two different families to fracture. No, instead Nicole spends a few days realizing how jealous she was that Rachel was able to command so much of her father’s attention, and how much she resented her for it. The resentment towards Rachel is echoed through Clair, Nicole’s mother, who is also painted as someone who simply couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand the complexity of Leonard’s feelings.
Despite the fact that the game attempts to paint Leonard as a sympathetic character whose only flaw was his own humanity, it repeatedly reminds you that womens’ humanity is not worthy of any consideration; Rachel exists only as Leonard’s proverbial apple, Clair exists only as a manifestation of jealousy, and Nicole exists only to expose the truth and absolve Leonard of any wrongdoing, even going as far as to try and make Nicole understand how deeply her father truly “loved” this sixteen year old girl.
The only other major character in the game is Irving, a FEMA agent communicating with Nicole by cellphone. Nicole finds herself back at the hotel for the purposes of conducting an inspection in preparation to sell it after her father’s death. Her hopes of getting out of there as soon as possible are dashed when the helpful Irving informs her that a severe snowstorm is on the way and she would surely not be able to make it through the mountain roads alive if she were to hop back into her car now.
Luckily, Irving, the FEMA agent and weatherman, is also incredibly knowledgeable about the hotel’s backstory, layout, condition, supplies, and about both Nicole and Rachel’s family history.
Irving convinces Nicole to stay and conduct the inspection herself rather than wait for the attorney hired to handle her father’s affairs. With his help, she navigates the halls of the old Timberline hotel, becoming increasingly concerned that she may not be there alone. She receives strange phone calls from a supposedly disconnected line. She hears strange sounds coming from the other floors. She gets locked into rooms after doors seemingly slam behind her. She finds objects inexplicably placed within the hotel’s walls. She discovers areas of the hotel that were previously completely unknown to her.
All this bizarre phenomena culminates into questions; Is Rachel really dead? Is some manifestation of her still roaming the hallowed halls of the Timberline? Is someone trying to show Nicole something? Is someone just trying to frighten her? It’s hard to say much more than that without spoiling the conclusion of The Suicide of Rachel Foster, so I’ll just say that if you’ve read this far and have a guess about how it ends and who is behind all the strange things Nicole experiences, you’re probably right.
In terms of narrative storytelling, however, nothing is made whole by Nicole uncovering the truth. Now, I like a convoluted ending. I enjoy stories that aren’t wrapped neatly with a little bow where the hero triumphs and everybody lives happily ever after. While it seems like this is what was attempted in tSoRF, where it falls short is in its execution.
The game’s end sequence (where you will have a choice to make on Nicole’s behalf) feels much more like something that was meant to shock players rather than something that is true to Nicole as a protagonist. Then again, I made the shocking choice so I guess it was effective.