By Adele Chapline Smith
NEW YORK (CNS) — The walking simulator horror game “The Suicide of Rachel Foster” (Daedelic Games) boasts hauntingly realistic visuals and simple mechanics.
But these assets are more than offset by a poorly devised story and, more importantly, a moral outlook so abysmally flawed that this title cannot be recommended for any audience.
The plot, set in 1993, revolves around a young woman named Nicole (voice of Kosha Engler). Following the death of her father, Nicole returns to her family’s remote hotel, the Timberline, to get it ready for sale.
She and her mother, we learn, fled the place a decade earlier after Nicole’s father, Leonard (voice of Mark Hanna), impregnated her 16-year-old friend Rachel — who subsequently killed herself. Now, an intense winter storm traps Nicole in the Timberline for days with only the disembodied voice of a FEMA agent for company. Her prolonged solitude ultimately forces her to confront the truth of her past.
From the beginning, it is easy to trace the game’s influences. Its sources include Stanley Kubrick 1980 film “The Shining,” Campo Santo’s award-winning title “Firewatch” and Fullbright’s critically acclaimed game “Gone Home.” (Kubrick, for instance, used the real-life Timberline Lodge in Oregon for exterior shots of the fictional Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.”)
Unlike the successful predecessors on which it draws, however, the new game falls short when it comes to its storyline — which is the most important element of any interactive title.
The first half of the gameplay possesses some interesting mechanics that heighten suspense. Thus, after the power goes out, Nicole’s only source of light is the flashbulb of an old Polaroid camera. But the later stages fail to follow through on this promising start, and the tension slackens.
A far more glaring failure, though, concerns the game’s underlying ethics. This can be seen in its attempt to portray the relationship between Rachel and Leonard as pure and romantic rather than illegal, abusive and evil. In a letter to Nicole, her mother correctly labels Leonard — who began grooming Rachel for his purposes when she was 15 — a “pedophile.” But Nicole herself shrugs this off as “slander.”
The topic of suicide, moreover, is handled with a complete lack of compassion, both toward the characters and toward players who might have real-world experience of such a tragedy. Suicide is depicted here as an escape or even a punishment, rather than a desperate act that’s often the result of mental illness or extreme duress.
Depending on the decisions Nicole makes, up to two other characters besides Rachel can die in this manner. That’s an eventuality gamers can avoid being involved with by looking elsewhere for their entertainment.
Playable on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows.
The game contains skewed values, some violence with gore and mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. Not rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
Smith reviews video games for Catholic News Service.