The Suicide of Rachel Foster, by OneOOne Games and Daedalic Entertainment, is another work of interactive fiction. It centres around a woman called Nicole. She has returned to her family’s dilapidated, abandoned hotel to discharge her parents’ estate, and becomes trapped by a snowstorm. She is contacted by Irving on an old, modified cell phone. He claims to be a FEMA agent, on the line to look out for people trapped by the ‘atypical storm’.
One issue is that the main characters are unlikable at the beginning. The protagonist’s mother, whom you only meet through letter, comes across as incredibly cold and cruel. Learning Nicole had marched against abortion in college didn’t exactly endear her to me either. I don’t know why they included that detail, especially as they (slightly cack-handedly) seem to be portraying Nicole as a strong, feminist character. It’s immediately alienating to any woman who values bodily autonomy, which according to polls is most women (and a lot of men). I can only assume it was a passive aggressive jab at the game’s titular (pregnant) victim.
Honestly, Nicole starts off as a fairly cringey caricature of a ‘badass chick who don’t need no man’. Her character deepens and improves as the game goes on, and her interactions with Irving (an excellent character) are high quality and immersive.
The story is based around Nicole inspecting the hotel and completing tasks, while chatting regularly with Irving. The inspection is divided up into 9 days and the hotel itself is genuinely excellent. Most of the dread is conveyed expertly through lighting and sound; the creaking floorboards, loose shutters, and snow outside.
You gradually learn more about the family, and the father, Leonard. A heavy smoker, keen reader and former astrophysicist; a profession that begs the question about why he was running a hotel in the middle of nowhere. Adding to the isolation is that Leonard failed to pay his phone bill; the hotel is cut off.
There is a delightfully creepy section where the power is knocked out. You are forced to find your way using polaroid camera flashes, and later a dynamo torch that you have to keep clicking. At another point, you discover that the men’s bathroom has been vandalised, and the word ‘pig’ spray-painted across it in red.
Then the hotel gets a sinister crank call, on a supposedly dead line, saying that Rachel is still there, and in the hotel.
Now, there is one thing that really affected my enjoyment of the game / story, and that’s the way they portrayed Leonard’s “affair” with Rachel. It’s described as ‘love’ and Leonard is portrayed as some sort of misunderstood victim.
During the game, we discover that 16 year old Rachel was severely dyslexic, bullied badly, and grew up in an abusive household. Leonard was 49, and was tutoring her. This is not a love affair.
Gamecrate, harshly but justifiably, asks, “Who was the target market for TSORF? Jeffrey Epstein?”
This is a predatory sex offender who abused his position of trust to groom and molest a vulnerable, outcast teenager. (Children with disabilities and those who are neglected are more at risk of being groomed). While in the UK, the age of consent is 16, his abuse of his position as tutor could still land his creepy arse in prison. Yet throughout, Leonard is excused, lionised, said to be ‘in love’. During your exploration you find a pile of poison pen letters marked ‘slander’ calling Leonard a paedophile. Perhaps the writers need to be reminded that the word ‘slander’ applies to lies.
It is clear that both Nicole and her mother saw Rachel as a beautiful, seductive temptress who ‘stole’ Leonard and ruined their lives. Reality paints a rather different picture. There is an unbelievably creepy replica of Rachel’s room, said to be accurate in every way. It is juvenile in the extreme; like the room of a much younger child. Unlike Nicole’s bass guitar, mixtapes and posters, Rachel’s room has a rocking horse, a speak and spell, pastel ABC paintings on the walls. Her room implies that she was either being infantilised or was developmentally delayed.
In the End
The ambiguity is handled perfectly. Throughout the story you have no real certainty whether Nicole is being haunted by ghosts or memories. There is no resolution over whether the isolation, memories and atmosphere have driven Nicole insane, or whether the ghost of Rachel has been haunting and manipulating her throughout.
My *hope* is that the developers were casting Humbert Leonard and his sidekick as unreliable narrators. That they knew it wasn’t love, but exploitation, and were riffing on the lies men like that tell themselves. It would tally with how inconclusive the game is, itself.
After all, the logo and frontispiece of the story is Rachel’s discarded retainer. Disturbingly, darkly beautiful, like a red butterfly against the white snow.