Snowbound Hotel in the Mountains? – Check
Dangerously old Boiler in the Basement? – Check
Traces of a supernatural presence prowling the corridors? – Check
A VW Beetle? – Check
Does spending days and nights trapped in a creepy hotel really make Jack a dull boy? Let’s shine a light on The Suicide Of Rachel Foster.
A top down view of a sea of umbrellas at a biblically rainy funeral, interspersed with the reading of a letter from the deceased, introduces us to the main character Nicole.
We learn from the letter that now both of her parents are dead, Nicole needs to go back to the mountains of Montana in order to put the family Hotel (where they all once lived together) up for sale.
The heavy rain turns pretty quickly into heavy snow and after a long drive in blizzard conditions followed by a quick look around the property, Nicole somehow loses her car keys and finds herself snowed in and alone.
The objective of the of the game is to explore the rather sinister hotel and carry out a variety of tasks. In the First Act, these are mainly focused on survival and to ensure that Nicole lives through the harsh Winter conditions both outside and inside the building. This involves getting the boiler fired up, finding a torch to enable navigating the dark corridors, (a wind up Torch no less) and searching for food to eat.
In the longer Second Act of the game the end goal changes, with objectives instead revolving around finding clues to unlock the mystery of the events that went on a decade before and drove Nicole’s parents apart.
The suicide of the pregnant daughter of a local Preacher is mentioned early on in the story, with the implication that her fate may have been connected to her relationship with Nicole’s Astrophysicist father.
Is there a Ghost still roaming the corridors of the hotel?
Is Nicole really alone?
Is the walk in freezer as randomly dangerous as it seems?
I will not go any further into the story during the review for fear of giving away any spoilers. You will have to pick up the game to find out exactly what happened.
Although very different graphically and stylistically from Firewatch, the hero of this ‘Walking Simulator’ also relies heavily on another character that is always out of view. Whereas in Firewatch, the protagonist was male and had a female acquaintance providing assistance and guidance via short wave radio, in this game Nicole has a male helper at the end of her comically large 80’s style mobile phone. We never actually get to see Irving (who contacts Nicole out of the blue as the local Federal Emergency Management Agency representative) but he acts as a guide and his presence is greatly appreciated, especially when hunting for food or trying to navigate the decomposing hotel alone late at night.
Puzzle design tends to be fairly straight forward with nothing being ridiculously difficult to work out. Only one part of the game (the start of day 8) confused me for a while and that was due to a sudden change in the way that the character was equipped. Looking back on it, this makes sense due to the situation Nicole finds herself in, but at the time I was stumped for several minutes.
Graphically the game has been designed well with the aforementioned funeral umbrella sequence particularly sticking in the memory, almost as a surrealist work of art. The hotel has a character all of its own and along with the sterling sound design, it certainly raised the hairs on the back of my neck a few times while I was exploring the mouldy corridors at night. Humming a happy tune was my way of trying to avoid a big jump scare moment but luckily there were not too many of those.
Characterisation has been designed thoughtfully by the Developers in that the originally abrasive Nicole soon calms down into a likeable presence in the game, whereas Irving’s helpful and happy go lucky personality really comes across during the conversations that they share. That cannot have been easy for the writers to pull off, especially when Irvings phone calls are always preceded by the squeal that you used to get when loading a game onto a ZX Spectrum via a Tape (remember those kids?)
The control system was fairly slick to use but had a slight tendancy to move the pointer straight past objects of interest within the first few minutes of exploration gameplay. It does not take long to get the hang of this however and is not really a problem.
The story itself is certainly interestingly written; however I was not entirely sure if I was playing a mystery, a horror title or a mixture of both. The very ending of the game was not strictly necessary to round things off but may have had more impact if it had been placed after the end credits.
There a lot of references to a certain Kubrick film in the game and these can only be seen as intentional tips of the hat to a great work of art. My biggest regret about the game is that Nicole was unable to cruise up and down the corridors of the hotel in a pedal cart.
As a genre, walking simulators are not for everyone, but this is a good example of one that works well. If you have ever wanted to experience being alone (or possibly not alone!) in a snowbound hotel, this could the game of your nightmares.