Content of the article: "Suicide of Rachel Foster — amazing setting design and ambience, but ultimately brought down by a poor story"
I'm a big fan of narrative games so Suicide of Rachel Foster (SRF) sounds right up my alley. It's been on my radar for a while and I finally sat down to play it.
There are quite a few things it does well. The setting of a shabby hotel in nowhere Montana during a winter is a really fine choice. This is really a great idea.
The premise of the game and the setting naturally makes you think something supernatural. The hotel location and the shabbiness are great for a variety of reasons. Primarily it's inherently creepy, but simultaneously, many things could easily be explained away logically. This leaves you going through the whole game wondering if there's a real haunting or not.
I admit I have a soft spot for this. It's the same feeling that Gone Home often left me with. I went through the whole game unsure if something was going to jump out at me.
The well done graphics, lightning, audio, and ambience really adds to all of this. Overall, I definitely give the developer high ratings for what they did with the setting.
However, where the game falls apart is in the actually plot and character development.
Regarding character development, the game seems to have taken a page from Firewatch. There are two characters and they communicate primarily through radio. I like this idea in Firewatch. It's an interesting method for two characters to build a relationship and you get to learn about both in a very natural way.
SRF doesn't do it well, though. Firewatch did it because the two characters get to talking out of boredom and wanting to learn about each other. This happens in SRF too, but I think it fails in that it never did enough of it to really create a good characterization.
Honestly, I think it would be hard to do so even if they try. What makes it work in Firewatch is that you're located in a big forest with a lot of traveling from spot to spot. SRF is in a small hotel and talking too long or too much on the radio actually interferes with progress and you trying to do something else. This actually happened to me several times. I would be waiting for the chatter to end just so I could progress with the story. The dev really should have made sure to keep chatter short.
Perhaps it could have worked if players decided to explore the hotel more and wanted a voice to speak. Firewatch allowed this — basically, you just contact your partner whenever you wanted to talk. It also would have been genius in a way. A creepy hotel you have to walk around in? A voice speaking to you would have been great. It would have encourage players to build a relationship and a sense of comfort towards Irving. It also would have allowed a lot of development to take place by both characters talking about things that would otherwise never come up.
However, SRF did not have this. You can only contact Irving under certain circumstances. I thought that was a huge missed opportunity.
With the plot, initially, it seemed really good. There was a slow build up of suspense and you felt as if it was approaching something sinister.
Then it just sort of derailed. There came a lot of plot twists that, honestly, just didn't really seem compelling to me. As if the twists were there more for shock than that it fit well into the story. The script became overdramatic and the 'final truth' left more questions than answers. A whole lot of 'how was this possible?' questions.
I was left with the sense that the game specifically avoided plot relevant details on certain characters specifically so that players could be given a 'plot twist' but that the game's story would have been vastly better had they just been included.
To be specific (SPOILERS): The characters of Claire (Nicole's mother) and Irving was left out. One was just rarely spoken of while the other was given a cover that Nicole repressed his memory. The game should have left them in and given more details about them. Let players read about their thoughts and feelings and slowly piece together the mystery rather than get a plot twist with an information dump. It would have been much better that way.
Ultimately, I give SRF high marks for environment/setting/audio but low marks for actual story. I still think it's a pretty good game and worth playing, but definitely not up to the standards of the games it seem to have gotten inspiration from.
- DMs, stop writing stories!
- I hope Far cry Primal gets its own game franchise
- SIBThe Last of Us Part II if I enjoy story games.
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