I get it, you play a game with a title like this then it might be fair to expect a pretty dark and unsettling experience.
And if that doesn’t give it away, the disclaimer that pops up before the game starts should be an even bigger clue. But it’s the way the subject matter is handled and represented that really troubles me.
I can’t fully elaborate on why that is without venturing very deeply into spoiler territory for the game, but what I can say is that the development team seem to have an okay-ish paced story for 2/3rds of a game – albeit, with troublesome themes – which just turns into a chaotic mess in the final third. And on such a sensitive topic, at such a difficult time, that type of subject matter must be treated with the greatest of care.
You play as Nicole, a young woman who returns to a hotel she lived in as a teenager. Nicole has inherited the family-owned property that has long since been vacated, and is now in the midst of a deal to sell it off. She is extremely hesitant to go back, though, because her childhood was tainted by an affair her father had with Rachel Foster and this place is full of memories.
From her childhood bedroom, to her dad’s office, thoughts come flooding back to Nicole – for better and worse.
Which actually brings me to another troubling part of the game’s story. As the story begins, we learn that Rachel committed suicide because of the way she was taken advantage of by Nicole’s father. He, at age 40, tutored Rachel, age 16, which eventually led to abuse, intimate involvement, and pregnancy, but the stories focus never really gets to the root of the troublesome nature of this relationship.
In fact, it feels like the relationship is being defended by both Nicole – who does not seem completely prepared to condemn her father for destroying two families – and the man on the end of the phone, Irving, who, at one point, explores the possibility of Nicole being jealous of her father’s relationship with Rachel.
Irving’s part is unexpected, but interesting, because it seems like Rachel is going to be holed up in the hotel on her own. There’s a raging blizzard outside and her attorney is unable to get to her or get through to her on the phone. She didn’t plan on going there in the first place and, in her mind, she’s just going to turn around and leave. That is, until she finds a very old walkie talkie-come-mobile phone, where she can speak to the FEMA Agent, Irving. He talks her out of it, encouraging you to stay safe.
Irving becomes your audio guide through the hotel. He’s visited regularly over the past few months for deliveries and disturbances, so he knows the layout well. Throughout the earlier parts of the game, Irving will tell you where to find food, how to turn the lights on, and other points of interest, but as time goes on, Nicole actually begins to confide in Irving, which is when you learn more about her childhood and what she remembers.
Eventually, Nicole decides she wants to learn more about Rachel’s life and how she and her father are connected, so Irving offers to help. And, truthfully, exploring the hotel, looking for clues, is one of the best parts of the game. You can often call Irving up to ask him advice on things, move between gaps in the wall for shortcuts between floors, and even go off the beaten path to discover things at your own pace. Though it often feels like you’re finding things before the game is ready for you to discover them. So you kind of have to act surprised when Nicole pretends to Irving like she hasn’t seen a thing we were looking at over an hour before.
While the back and forth dialogue has its fun moments that will raise a smile or two, their relationship is no patch on Henry and Delilah from Firewatch – a great game that One o One show plenty of respect to. The problem is how this game’s ending is reached and decided upon.
The developer has done all the hard work building things up and setting the path, but the game completely falls in on itself in its last half hour and it ultimately sullies the entire experience. And it is a shame because the environmental storytelling – learning things about the character through interpretation – and the navigation of such a wide-open space for this type of adventure is actually quite refreshing.
But when the credits rolled I felt unsettled and uncomfortable. Not because of how the story had approached such a delicate subject matter, but how clumsily its message is presented and how poorly certain themes are explored. The ending left a really sour, bad taste in my mouth, one that kind of made me regret playing the game in the first place.
Honestly, I’ve never uninstalled a game faster once I was done. There are two different endings in the game, but I had no desire to see the other – those who’ve completed it can probably guess which way I went. And the developer is less than subtle about their preferred choice, providing a trophy/achievement for one and not the other.
All I’ll say is, approach this one with caution. I don’t often warn people off playing games, but between some potentially bad triggers and a really hamfisted approach to a sensitive subject this may not be the game for you, and in that case, I’d just advise playing something else entirely.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is now available on PC, PS4, and XO
Tested on PS4
Code provided by developer