With Fall quickly closing in around us, and the sudden smell of pumpkin spice once again filling the air, you may be feeling that seasonal tinge to explore some horror media. Whether you are looking for a scary movie or an adventurous haunted house to visit, this year’s Halloween may be a lot different from previous ones. Which is why a thrilling video game might satisfy that craving for fear. Imagine spending a week in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, all alone, with a raging snowstorm outside. That was the vibe I received from playing The Suicide of Rachel Foster, and yet there are many aspects of this game that didn’t quite hit the mark.
Without giving away too much of the narrative, the game is a first-person walking simulator placed in a newly abandoned hotel in Montana during the early ’90s. You play as Nicole, a woman in her mid-twenties returning to the hotel once owned by her late father, Leonard. Nicole and her parents had once lived in the hotel 10 years prior to the start of the game, but you soon come to realize that there were tragic events responsible for the separation of her family. Nicole’s father has passed away, and she is tasked with observing the hotel and making sure it is suitable to sell.
The drama of this game revolves around Rachel Foster, who was a dyslexic 16-year-old, and daughter of the hotel pastor around the time Nicole lived there. Leonard was Rachel’s tutor at the hotel, and the two then started an “affair” that ruined his marriage and reputation amongst the community. Word then got out that Rachel was pregnant and apparently the guilt of the situation caused her to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. Nicole and her mother then left her father and the Timberland hotel behind.
The game pretty much leaves you to your own devices. Your one companion is a FEMA agent named Irving who helps Nicole navigate her surroundings via an early Motorola cell phone. Being a walking simulator, the game gives off all the feels of your basic PC game, converted into a console format. The camera moves up and down to give the player the feeling of walking through the hotel, which may take some getting used to if you’re used to the floating camera first-person perspective. The map of the hotel is pretty vast and well detailed with numerous floors and hidden rooms. You can tell that the developers at Daedalic Entertainment spent some time focusing on detail and the overall eeriness of the Timberland Hotel.
The map of the hotel is your most essential tool to not only navigate but also as a task directory. You have to pay quite a bit of attention to the dialogue between Nicole and Irving because he is basically guiding you through the objectives. You might also find yourself memorizing the twists and turns of the hotel as you go from one location to the other. The controls are pretty standard; when you approach an item it’ll give you the chance to pick up and observe. Not every item is important, but pick up the right thing and it’ll lead to more dialogue. As you progress through the game, certain items become available to you through the D-pad. One cool item was a Polaroid camera that becomes a useful tool when all the lights go out during a mission. You walk around snapping pictures for light and it just adds to the overall paranoia that plagues you the entire game. Also, click in on the left stick to run, even though I don’t think you’ll ever need to.
There are plenty of issues one might find with the story of this game. You can look it at it from different angles but the topics discussed might be unsettling for some players. For example, the relationship between Leonard and Rachel is glorified, and yet anyone playing would not consider a relationship with a minor an “affair.” Being that Nicole was the same age as Rachel during this whole situation is also a bit unsettling. As you uncover more and more details surrounding the events, your opinions might reflect your morality, as you begin to question who is truly at fault here. I personally love when a game challenges your perspective, but this one is bitter than most.
TSoRF then balances you on the edge of a ghost story and a murder mystery. I would say the game plays on your anxiety and fear of running into something scary, but never quite satisfies that. You don’t really know if Rachel’s spirit is trying to help you or if she’s just trapped along with others in the hotel. There aren’t any appearances of ghosts or jump scares, but I really wished there were. This game had so much potential to really scare its audience and it went totally untapped. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t creeped out walking around the hallways hearing voices and having doors slam, but I really expected more.
There are quite a few twists and turns in this game, and it is fairly quick to play with an average of about 3 hours. You might find this game disturbing and I agree that it is, but between the spotty dialogue, the lack of true fear, poor character development, and the overall feeling of “What was the point?” you aren’t missing much if you don’t play this game. I’d personally love to see a scarier remake in which you see ghosts or things chase you around the halls. The scariest element of the game is most likely the human character, and the anxiety we put on ourselves when left alone in a big place. The game does well at making you feel watched, and the hotel is beautifully designed that you know something dark is lurking around the corner. Overall, TSoRF is entertaining at best but leaves much room for improvement.