The Suicide of Rachel Foster

The Suicide of Rachel Foster is an adventure video game developed by ONE-O-ONE Games and published by Daedalic Entertainment. The game was released in February 2020 for Microsoft Windows, in September 2020 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and in October 2021 for Nintendo Switch.

The Suicide of Rachel Foster
The Suicide of Rachel Foster - Cover.webp
Cover art of the game featuring Rachel's retainer
Developer(s)ONE-O-ONE Games
Publisher(s)Daedalic Entertainment
Director(s)Daniele Azara
Programmer(s)Lorenzo Bellincampi
Writer(s)Daniele Azara
Composer(s)Federico Landini
EngineUnreal Engine 4
Platform(s)
Release
  • Microsoft Windows
  • February 19, 2020
  • PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • September 9, 2020
  • Nintendo Switch
  • October 31, 2021
Mode(s)Single-player

The story follows Nicole Wilson in Lewis and Clark County, Montana during December 1993 on a visit to her family's hotel. Having left ten years prior with her mother following the revelation that her father Leonard was having an affair with the teenaged Rachel Foster, Nicole plans on quickly inspecting the hotel and selling it. Forced to stay there due to a heavy snowstorm, her only contact with the outside world is a FEMA agent named Irving. With his help, Nicole decides to investigate the affair between Leonard and Rachel, as well as her mysterious suicide.

The Suicide of Rachel Foster took around two years to develop. The studio aimed to create a horror game that emphasized suspense and fear instead of traditional horror monsters. The game's narrative and gameplay were developed simultaneously to ensure that one would complement the other. The game was created as a walking simulator to allow real-life topics to be explored, given the genre's emphasis on narrative. The game is set in the Timberline hotel, with the Overlook Hotel from The Shining (1980) as well as various real-life hotels being used as inspiration for its architecture. The developers sought professional advice for the game's depiction of topics such as child sexual abuse and suicide, to portray them with sensitivity.

The game received mixed reviews from critics. Its setting and sound design were praised for creating the appropriate atmosphere, with Nicole and Irving relationship and voice actors also being commended; some gameplay aspects were criticized. Conversely, the game's plot and mystery received a more mixed reception, and critics were polarized by the depictions of pedophilia and suicide, the depiction of Leonard and Rachel's relationship, and the game's ending. The Suicide of Rachel Foster was nominated for various awards, winning the DStar Award for Game of the Year in 2021.

GameplayEdit

 
Rachel interacting with a radiotelephone she uses to communicate with Irving.

The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a mystery thriller[1] adventure game played from a first-person perspective that takes place in the American county Lewis and Clark County, Montana, in December 1993.[2] Players take control of Nicole Wilson, who returns to inspect her family's Timberline Hotel at the Helena National Forest. Trapped there due to a snowstorm, Nicole explores the hotel to uncover clues about the relationship between her father and the teenaged Rachel Foster, as well as the circumstances surrounding Rachel's mysterious suicide.[3] Nicole's only means of communication is a radiotelephone she can use to talk to Irving Crawford, a FEMA agent. Players can choose from a dialogue tree how they reply during conversations with him.[2][4]

PlotEdit

In December 1993, Nicole Wilson reads a letter from her now-dead mother Claire. Nicole's father, Leonard McGrath, was the owner of the Timberline Hotel, a mountain hotel in Lewis and Clark County, Montana, situated in the Helena National Forest. In 1983, Leonard had an affair with Nicole's 16-year-old classmate Rachel Foster. Once their relationship was discovered, Rachel seemingly killed herself nine weeks into her pregnancy, and Claire left town with Nicole. In the letter, Claire instructs Nicole to inspect the hotel and sell it.

Nicole visits the hotel. She gets a call from a FEMA agent named Irving Crawford. Irving states that he is meant to assist Nicole during her stay at the hotel. She rejects his assistance, telling him she will leave as soon as possible. Irving warns her against it, due to an ongoing heavy snowstorm, but Nicole says she still plans on leaving. However, Nicole discovers she is unable to leave, which angers her. She informs Irving she'd rather not discuss what happened between her father and Rachel, when Irving reveals he's aware of the situation. Irving reveals that due to the snowstorm, Nicole's lawyer, Mr. Jenkins, is unable to come to the hotel to help with the inspection, and that he instructs her to start with the second floor.

Nicole questions Irving on his knowledge about her family and the hotel, he reveals that due to the Timberline's isolated location, he was often sent by FEMA to provide supplies. A phone rings—even though the hotel's phone lines are down—and Nicole answers. Its voice warns her to not sell the hotel, as Rachel "is still there". While looking for the hotel's generator, due to the lack of power, Nicole finds a recently opened lipstick. Nicole talks to Irving about her theory that Rachel might still be alive and collects clues, including a journalist believing Rachel's suicide note was fabricated, and a classmate of hers believing she saw Rachel at the Timberline.

Two days later, Irving shows Nicole a tape taken by ghost-hunters after Rachel's death. Nicole enters the room where the tape was recorded and finds it barricaded. After unlocking it, Nicole finds a microphone allowing her to hear faint sounds. In the tape, one of the hunters hears a woman's voice with the microphone and they all flee upon noticing a strange light, with the door shutting behind them.

Nicole wakes up inside a church, which connects to the hotel through an underground passage. Calling Irving, she realizes she was sleepwalking. Revisiting the church, she remembers a rhyme her father had taught her to find a secret storeroom inside the passage. There, she finds a room modelled after Rachel's bedroom, and the key to her music box. While Nicole believes someone—possibly Rachel—was living there, Irving argues that it was built by Leonard as a shrine, which angers Nicole. Opening the music box, Nicole remembers the events of December 27, 1983, when Rachel supposedly killed herself; Nicole was playing at a hockey game, which her mother had driven her to.

Nicole investigates a storeroom and finds multiple mannequins, three of which have been set up to indicate a pregnant woman being killed by someone with a hockey stick; Nicole realizes the hockey stick belongs to her. When calling Irving, he acts suspiciously, and tells her to continue her search. Going back to the second floor, a door leading to the west wing, which Nicole previously found locked, she finds unlocked. There she finds Irving's room, which includes the equipment he used to talk to her. Irving reveals he was behind many of the strange occurrences and that he used Nicole to help uncover what had truly happened to Rachel. Irving is Rachel's younger brother, and in his restrictive household, his sister was the only person that brought him joy. Rachel suffered from dyslexia, and Irving wished to protect her, with Leonard being the one person who "saw her".

Going to the attic, Nicole finds a recording Leonard left for her, asking her to find out what truly happened to Rachel, and the keys to her mother's car. Opening its truck, she finds a blood-stained coat. When she goes to wash it, she uncovers a repressed memory of the night Rachel died, sharing it with Irving. Claire murdered Rachel with Nicole's hockey stick, drove Nicole to her hockey game, and while she was playing, framed Rachel's suicide. Having learned the truth, Irving thanks Rachel and goes out into the cold to die, before the signal is lost, with Nicole begging him to not leave her alone. Later, Nicole is inside her car, planning to take her life via carbon monoxide poisoning. Receiving a call from her lawyer and informing him she does not plan on selling the hotel, she starts the engine, while also talking to her mother and father. If Nicole decides to turn the engine off, she promises her parents to bring the Timberline back to its feet.

DevelopmentEdit

The Suicide of Rachel Foster was developed by Italian studio ONE-O-ONE Games and directed by Daniele Azara, the company's head of games.[5] According to art director Graziano Pimpolari, the game took around two years to finish.[6] Lead programmer Lorenzo Bellincampi stated that the game is not horror, and described it as "nostalgia and mystery rather than fear or terror".[4] The crew and voice actors worked remotely on the game and according to Azara, the game's ending caused many cast members to cry.[7]

The Suicide of Rachel Foster was first revealed during Gamescom 2018.[5][4] The Microsoft Windows version of the game was released on February 19, 2020.[8] The console versions were initially set to release the same year on August 26,[3] but were postponed and released on September 9.[9] The game was made available on the Nintendo Switch on October 31, 2021.[10]

SettingEdit

The studio intended to create a psychological horror game evoking "unease and fear" without having to resort to traditional monsters or jump scares.[11] The horror was intended to be internal, with players being scared by their own expectations and imagination.[7] From the beginning of the game's development, the studio wanted the narrative and gameplay to complement one another, rather than finishing the story first and then choosing an appropriate gameplay style.[12] The game was made a walking simulator due to the genre's high emphasis on narrative, allowing for the exploration of real-life topics.[11] The game has over 100,000 words of dialogue.[5]

The game takes place in Lewis and Clark County, Montana in December 1993, in the Timberline Hotel, a mountain hotel. According to Graziano Pimpolari, it was fundamental that the game's environment felt real.[6] Montana was chosen both because it allowed the developers to place the Timberline Hotel in an isolated area, and the region's religious and legal background.[11] The hotel was designed to cause fear and feelings of isolation in the player, being set in an enclosed space to increase the claustrophobia.[11][12] The Timberline Hotel was designed to look authentic for its time period.[6] The team implemented architectural and proportional studies to create the hotel, so players could identify with it and be interested in exploring it.[12] The team researched various real-life hotels to create the hotel's floor plan.[7] The hotel's design drew heavily from the Overlook Hotel, featured in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).[2]

Story and themesEdit

Azara stated the developers were challenged with portraying and discussing topics such as child sexual abuse, grief, and suicide without becoming overly morbid and depressing and to achieve this, they sought advice from partners and professionals.[12] Regarding Rachel and Leonard's pedophilic relationship, ONE-O-ONE Games stated they were interested in exploring the moral implications of such a situation.[11] Since Rachel and Leonard never properly appear in the story, the developers stated that having their relationship explored through Nicole and how she was affected by the tragedies surrounding it was "central to the horror experience".[11]

Rachel and Leonard's relationship was presented from various perspectives to encourage players to think critically about such a relationship and the repercussions it can have.[11] The team wanted players to reflect on the game's topics after playing it, especially as they believed discussions of these topics can lead to healing.[12] Leonard and Irving seemingly condone his relationship with Rachel, with the developers including this ideology to showcase how people's emotions can blind them and cause them to justify immoral acts.[11]

ONE-O-ONE stated that the "controversial decision" to have Nicole potentially die by suicide at the end, and putting her fate in the player's hands, was something they felt was in line with the game's themes and viewed as an "interesting game mechanic".[11]

ReceptionEdit

According to review aggregator Metacritic, all versions of The Suicide of Rachel Foster received generally "mixed or average reviews".[13][14][15]

Gameplay and settingEdit

The game's setting—the Timberline Hotel—received praise, as did the sound design for helping create an appropriate atmosphere. ProSieben praised the hotel's design,[18] as did Jeuxvideo.com.[17] PC Gamer called the environment "engaging"[19] and capable of creating tension,[19] while Eurogamer described the hotel as "creepy" and its design "predatory".[20] Screen Rant commended the hotel's atmosphere, while praising the game's sound design for keeping the players "on [their] toes".[21] EveryEye also praised the sound design,[22] with ProSieben stating that it created an appropriate atmosphere.[18] IGN praised the sound design for creating a sense of loneliness.[16]

Despite the Timberline's positive reception, there was criticism of the lack of engagement with the setting and its puzzles. EveryEye criticized the linearity of the game's plot, as it did not allow for a proper exploration of the entire hotel,[22] which was also commented on by Jeuxvideo.com.[17] Rock Paper Shotgun, while appreciating the hotel's design, criticized its scope and the fact that the puzzle items were rarely required to be used, making them redundant.[23] ProSieben criticized the lack of puzzles in the game,[18] while Eurogamer found the few existing puzzles overly simplistic.[20]

Story and charactersEdit

The game's plot and ending received a mixed response from critics, with many finding the ending inconsistent with the rest of the game. The Washington Post described the game's overall mystery as "obvious" and lacking in scares.[24] Jeuxvideo.com criticized the narrative for not being engaging enough, causing the player to become a spectator.[17] They also criticized the game's ending and its twists, finding them inconsistent with the rest of the game's story.[17] Rock Paper Shotgun said the game's ending caused the story to "go[...] off the rails",[23] while IGN found its twists to be ineffective.[16] Though Eurogamer enjoyed the game's first half, its second half and ending were criticized and described as "melodramatic".[20] PC Gamer stated while the game initially showed promise—appearing as a ghost story—it eventually became a "melodramatic soap opera".[19] Though ProSieben criticized the plot for taking too long to truly begin, the ending and its twists were praised.[18] EveryEye praised the game's narrative and story for interweaving various genres, such as family drama, thriller, and ghost story.[22] Screen Rant praised the game's plot, and described it as "thrilling".[21] While they found the ending "emotionally satisfying", its "logical concerns" were also acknowledged.[21]

The characters Nicole and Irving were praised, as was their relationship and voice acting. Eurogamer and EveryEye praised both characters, as well as their voice actors' portrayal,[20][22] Rock Paper Shotgun praised the voice actors for making the characters interesting.[23] While IGN found Nicole and Irving to be unoriginal, they praised their consistent personalities and voice acting, as well as the depiction of their relationship.[16] PC Gamer enjoyed the relationship between Nicole and Irving, likening it to Henry and Delilah from Firewatch (2016).[19] Screen Rant praised the dialogue between Nicole and Irving.[21] ProSieben called Nicole as a strong protagonist, showcased through the game's writing of her conversations with Irving, and the layout of her room.[18] Jeuxvideo.com praised the voice actors for bringing the characters to life, although they criticized scenes in which Irving calls Nicole without being prompted by the player.[17]

Themes and endingEdit

The game's depiction of pedophilia and suicide, especially the relationship between Leonard and Rachel, was polarizing. Rock Paper Shotgun criticized the portrayal of Leonard and Rachel's relationship,[23] as did Comic Years, believing that the game lacked the "proactive and careful discourse" that the topic required.[25] PC Gamer found the portrayal problematic, stating the game portrays the relationship in a romantic light. They also criticized Rachel's lack of agency in the story.[19] PC Gamer criticized the lack of sensitivity afforded to pedophilia and suicide, finding the game to sensationalize them instead.[19] Similarly, NME did not believe the developers succeeded in causing the game's audience to consider the game's topics, criticizing the portrayal of Leonard and Rachel's relationship since it makes the players sympathize with them.[26] Eurogamer argued that the portrayal of the game's controversial topics does not create a further understanding of them. While they noted that the game does not criticize Leonard's relationship with Rachel, they acknowledged how the characters themselves reflect on the relationship is not indicative of the developers' opinion.[20]

The game's handling of suicide, especially regarding Nicole's suicide attempt at the end, was also polarizing.[23] NME disliked the game's ending and the decision to potentially have Nicole commit suicide, arguing that it contrasted her earlier characterization, and criticized it for making players complicit in someone's suicide attempt.[26] While EveryEye acknowledged inconsistencies regarding the narrative near its end, it praised the final choice of Nicole's attempted suicide as having "ethical and moral value".[22]

AwardsEdit

The Suicide of Rachel Foster was nominated for the Best Italian Game at the Italian Video Game Awards in 2020, but did not win.[27][28] The game was also nominated at the TGM Awards 2020 in the categories Dynamic Adventure and Tell Me a Story, but lost both.[29][30] At the DStar Awards 2021, the game was nominated for and won Game of the Year.[31]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Koljensic, Milena (November 13, 2018). "Celebrating Unreal Engine developers throughout Europe". Unreal Engine. Archived from the original on October 23, 2019. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Cugliandro, Claudio (September 6, 2018). "The Suicide of Rachel Foster: un'avventura ispirata a Firewatch e Shining". EveryEye (in Italian). Archived from the original on February 4, 2021. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Wilson, Mike (August 21, 2020). "Ghostly Adventure 'The Suicide of Rachel Foster' Haunts PS4 And Xbox One Later This Month [Trailer]". Bloody Disgusting. The Collective. Archived from the original on August 10, 2021. Retrieved August 15, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Evans-Thirlwell, Edwin (September 12, 2018). "The Suicide of Rachel Foster asks "What if Firewatch, but also The Shining?"". Rock Paper Shotgun. Gamer Network. Archived from the original on August 10, 2021. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Di Pietro, Alessio (October 3, 2018). "The suicide of Rachel Foster arriva alla Milan Games Week 2018". VIGAMUS Magazine (in Italian). Video Game Museum of Rome. Archived from the original on August 10, 2021. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
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External linksEdit