The game begins on a dramatic note with a letter, a funeral and an inheritance. Upon the death of her father, Leonard, Nicole receives a letter from her deceased mother. Nicole’s mother, Claire, had entrusted her final instructions with a lawyer to be delivered to her daughter at the time of her former husband’s death. It’s Claire’s wish that Nicole sell their family hotel and donate part of the sale to the family of Rachel Foster. In the letter, she refers to Leonard’s affair with the sixteen-year-old girl who allegedly killed herself while pregnant with his child. After reading through the pages of Claire’s letter, the game cuts to a funeral in the rain and one black umbrella among many. The other black umbrellas part for the player to make their way to the coffin.
As I made my way to the coffin I thought, “this game is going to be heavy.” My intuition was way off. I thought “The Suicide of Rachel Foster” would be far more emotionally affecting.
Set in Montana in 1993, the game unfolds at the Timberline Hotel where Nicole travels to perform what she expects will be a legally-required quick inspection of the property before it can go on the market. From the overhead shot of her car as it travels on route, to the red walled and patterned carpeted decor of the hotel with its Native American iconography, it is obvious that “The Suicide of Rachel Foster” is keen to pay homage to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of “The Shining.”
At the hotel, Nicole receives a call from a FEMA agent named Irving who warns her of an imminent snowstorm about to hit the area. Nicole is brusque, dismissing his warnings out of hand. Her irritability is linked to her surroundings. For her, the place reeks of bad memories. Unfortunately, when she tries to high-tail it away, she finds the door to the garage inoperable. Trapped in the hotel, Nicole comes to rely on Irving’s advice. And her dislike toward her surroundings grows into one of increasing fascination.
When the first intertitle flashed across the screen — “Day 1” — I laughed, recalling the intertitle in “The Shining.” For more than a week Nicole will find herself stuck in the hotel where she grew up. During that time she runs about on different errands — fixing the power, investigating strange sounds, etc. — while frequently chatting with Irving on a clunky, early 1990s “cellphone.” The game teases at the supernatural, but in a similar vein as “Gone Home,” the friction comes from unearthing family secrets.
Regrettably, the revelations the story builds to are obvious, and the characters are not charismatic enough to transcend the limitations of the plotline. That, on top of the lack of scares and the lack of mystery, worked to gradually dull my interest in “The Suicide of Rachel Foster.” Its allusions to one of cinema’s great horror classics leave much to be desired.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.