Short and sharp narrative-driven experiences have become commonplace in the video game landscape over the past few years. Games like Firewatch, Draugen and What Remains of Edith Finch have shown just how engaging short stories can be when they’re well written and well produced despite the lack of ‘gameplay’ they may have. Not afraid to touch on sensitive issues, these types of games often succeed at making you feel something, whether it’s in the moment or after the credits roll. The Suicide of Rachel Foster from One-O-One Games and Daedalic Entertainment is another game that can add its name to the list of powerful and evocative interactive narratives, with its dark and mystery-laden premise compelling from start to finish.
Enjoy your stay at the Timberline
Set in 1993 in Lewis and Clark County, Montana, USA, the story of The Suicide of Rachel Foster sees lead character Nicole return to the Timberline, a family-owned mountain lodge hotel she once fled from ten years prior after her mother discovered her father Leonard was having an affair with teenager Rachel Foster – a girl who later committed suicide while pregnant. With both her parents now passed away, Nicole has returned to honour her mother’s final wish: to sell the hotel. However due to a severe storm, Nicole is trapped at the hotel alone until the storm blows over, with her only companion being a voice on the other end of a phone – a FEMA agent named Irving. While waiting the storm out, Nicole starts to discover that there might be more to Rachel’s death than what was reported. It begins a turbulent trip down memory lane to uncover the truth behind the events that tore her family apart.
The narrative, which takes place over roughly ten days, draws heavily from Campo Santo’s Firewatch in its delivery, with Nicole frequently interacting with Irving, either for support, comfort or to simply shoot the breeze. Initially Irving is nothing more than a bumbling stranger on the phone, but after a few days the pair begin to form a bond, and Irving becomes an integral part in both Nicole’s investigation and her ability to digest the information she’s uncovering, despite his apprehension surrounding Nicole’s theory of there being more to Rachel’s story. He’s also the key to unlocking the story, so when the phone rings it generally means you’re on the right path.
A millennial’s worst nightmare
An essential part for any game of this ilk is to have high-quality and authentic writing and voice acting, and in this department The Suicide of Rachel Foster delivers in spades. The growth in Nicole and Irving’s relationship is emphasised by the continual tonal change in their conversation and the best part is that it feels believable. The player is often given a choice of how to respond to Irving, and while it doesn’t impact the overall plot, it’s still a nice touch and gives the player the illusion of choice.
As Nicole delves further into the events behind Rachel’s death, the narrative takes a slight twist and it’s a well-timed introduction that gives the story an added string to its bow. While I’m loathe to give it away, let’s just say it creates an added tension that serves the game perfectly – and that’s without mentioning the game’s final twist.
Gameplay-wise it’s your traditional narrative adventure, with Nicole able to interact with and equip a number of objects and items. Some of these are required to progress in the story such as a flashlight, microphone and a polaroid camera, while others feel rather pointless in being interactive (such as the bloody detergent bottles and endless science books) given they have no use despite their ubiquity.
An essential part for any game of this ilk is to have high-quality and authentic writing and voice acting, and in this department The Suicide of Rachel Foster delivers in spades
While it’s certainly no longer a holiday destination, the Timberline Hotel oozes ramshackle beauty, and exploring the confines will see you come across rustic ballrooms, dilapidated hallways covered in mould and hidden passageways, all easy on the eye thanks to some impressive visuals. The abandoned rural hotel setting fits the premise perfectly and one that I wish was used more often in other games.
When it comes to performance I did have one instance where after loading into a new day the objective didn’t activate and I spent about a half hour wandering around before I restarted (I’ll cop most of the blame for that because I should have restarted sooner) and playing on a 55” TV I did experience some screen tearing when playing above 1080p – however playing on a 32” monitor at 1440p I experienced no issues.
If there’s one minor knock against the game it’s the soundtrack’s lack of impact in the more poignant moments. Rather than enhancing these scenes, the soundtrack simply accompanies them and it feels like a missed opportunity. However on the flip side, the decision to utilise environmental sounds over a soundtrack in the game’s general and other key moments pays dividends, with sounds such as the creaking floors or the wind outside hammering the haggard Timberline emphasising the lonely and daunting situation Nicole is in.
The Timberline Hotel or cheap European hostel?
Despite only clocking in at around four hours, The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a game that had me hooked until the very end. Its narrative may centre around sensitive themes, but the quality in which its written and delivered elicits a genuine emotional response. It’s simply a must-play for fans of narrative-driven games.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher