Tell Me Why on Xbox One
Each and every time I play a Dontnod game, I always fall in love with the same few things: the gorgeous visuals, the enthralling narratives, and, of course, the stellar selection of curated tracks that combine to make a soundtrack that accentuates the games’ most heartfelt moments in a way only music can. Having wrapped up Tell Me Why, I can confirm it ticks all of those boxes, even if it falters slightly in other areas along the way.
Tell Me Why tells the story of Alyson and Tyler, two twins who have been separated for 10 years when we pick up their story at the beginning of Chapter 1. Alyson has stayed in their hometown, Delos Crossing, Alaska, living an ordinary childhood and teenage life. Tyler, on the other hand, is finishing up his time at Fireweed, a correctional facility he was sent to as a result of events that took place during the twins’ childhood.
Both Alyson and Tyler are likable and relatable. Alyson’s a fusser, she’s thoughtful, conscientious, and never likes to let people down. She’s constantly wanting to make sure Tyler’s okay, without putting herself first. Tyler, on the other hand, is much more confident and self-assured.
It’s these polar opposite traits that make the narrative so interesting to follow from both of their perspectives and gives the decision-based gameplay a bit more of a personal feel. Tyler does what he wants to get to the bottom of the events of his past with a seeming disregard for the consequences, or who he may upset.
It’s these past events that are the primary focus of the story. Players will engage in conversations, recount memories, solve environmental puzzles, and utilize special twin connection superpowers to get to the bottom of the dark mysteries of their past. A lot of this centers around the old family home, where their mother Mary-Ann struggled to bring the kids up on her own.
The twins’ special connection, referred to as a ‘Bond’, is the unique link they share that allows them to replay their memories. These then play out in real-time with sparkling silhouettes, reminiscent of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’s cast of glistening bodies.
You’ll use the twins’ Bond to recount different versions of past events, deciding which one to believe, which impacts their relationship and the way the narrative plays out. They can also communicate telepathically, having conversations privately on the fly to quickly figure out what they’ll do next.
The ‘Bond’ doesn’t really add a whole lot to the gameplay, though. While you’ll have to pick which of the twins’ versions of past events to recount and believe, acting as the main ‘decisions’ in the gameplay, they only really drive the narrative forward.
Similarly, there’s only a handful of moments you’re able to use their ‘Bond’ to telepathically communicate during gameplay, making this supernatural element far less gameplay-heavy, and more an intuitive means of bringing past memories into the narrative and highlighting the connection between the twins in a more immersive manner.
Tell Me Why’s narrative was gripping throughout the duration of its three episodes, and the fact that I’m itching to return to Delos Crossing to uncover more of its seedy goings-on and learn more about its characters only goes to showcase Dontnod’s prowess in crafting engaging, moreish narratives. That being said, Chapter 2 certainly felt like the slowest-paced of the three and the weakest as a result. Even if it does have a classic Dontnod cliffhanger ending to get you hyped for Chapter 3.
What isn’t at the forefront of the story but is certainly prevalent is Tyler’s gender identity. Tyler is a transgender man. Dontnod has worked in collaboration with GLAAD to ensure Tyler’s portrayal of a transgender man is done so in a nuanced and relatable way that avoids problematic tropes and stereotypes that have plagued trans representation in media.
I’ll confess, I’m not as educated on the topic as I probably should be, but Tell Me Why does a solid job of educating and highlighting the common everyday words that can be so hurtful to the trans community, and shows us how to be better.
The writing and narrative are clever in portraying how even someone who meant no ill intent can come across as awkward, unnatural and sometimes offensive to a transgender person by immediately placing ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’ examples right next to one another. Spoilers: Just treat transgender people like everyone else. It’s as simple as that.
It’s worth noting that Dontnod is opting to release Tell Me Why’s three episodes over the course of three weeks, and they couldn’t have made a better decision. After Life Is Strange 2’s five episodes were released over the space of 15 months, it was difficult to follow the nuances of its narrative or remember the decisions you’d made two episodes ago. I hope Dontnod opts to release all of its future episodic series on much shorter release schedules moving forward.
Just like the Life Is Strange episodic series that released before it, Tell Me Why is largely focused on progressing through the story, and making decisions on what the twins should do next in their investigation, or how they should approach conversations with the ensemble cast.
While the ensemble cast was full of particularly strong and likable characters –with excellent voice acting throughout, may I add– the decisions often felt a little lackluster. Consequences seemed only to ever be superficial, with very little impact on how the gameplay would unfold. Even in regards to the narrative, decisions felt so inconsequential that I’d rarely find myself struggling to pick one choice over the other.
Instead, these decisions almost appeared to go down the old ‘Telltale Games’ route of simply impacting how an ensemble character felt about one (or both) of the twins. While there are some minor pay-offs to some of your decisions in the closing moments of the game, these are so subtle that they can be easily overlooked as simply something that would happen regardless of your choices.
While not set in the same world, there’s definitely a familiar feel and look to Tell Me Why. It’s refreshing, really, to see a studio find its own identity in little subtleties and the finer details — the way their characters look; the delectable music curated for each episode, and the looks and feel of the gameplay. Dontnod has clearly doubled down on its forte and looks set to continue delivering well-written tales all within that same familiar framework.
Unfortunately, my time with Tell Me Why wasn’t completely devoid of bugs. Audio glitches where dialogue would cut out and randomly come back in were frequent, and prior to an update that’s now resolved the issue, I couldn’t actually reach the end of the game, with it crashing during a cutscene no less than four times.
With the crashes now resolved, it’s something that hasn’t impacted my score for Tell Me Why, but there are enough little glitches and hiccups still present that made it all worth a mention.
Despite this frustration, Tell Me Why left me rather satisfied. Its narrative was intriguing, evocative, and hid messages about the power of storytelling, hiding emotions, and the motives behind them.
In a modern-day society where prejudices are rife, Tell Me Why is a heartfelt portrayal of the common day misunderstandings and real-life moral dilemmas that can hurt. Intentionally, and more significantly unintentionally.
It’s a message to players that games can be used as a medium to help understand and be understood, quashing stereotypes and tropes of the transgender community in a way that only video games can. A reminder that what Tyler has gone through during his childhood and transition is something that we as the player must observe and understand. To learn to be better to each other. To learn to listen and not jump to conclusions.
Tell Me Why is one of those games you’re best experiencing for yourself. The narrative’s engaging and mysterious, its characters are well-written and likable, and the varied gameplay keeps things fresh to help you push through to the end. As long as Chapter 3 is properly QA’d ahead of its public release on Sept. 10, Tell Me Why’s an easy recommendation to fans of Life Is Strange and the narrative-drive, decision-based genre on the whole.
Reviewer: Chris Jecks | Copy provided by Publisher.
- – Engaging story.
- – Great ensemble cast.
- – Fantastic curated soundtrack.
- – Varied gameplay helps keep things interesting.
- – Episode 2 felt particularly slow and drawn out.
- – Frequent audio issues
- – Choices largely feel inconsequential.
Aug. 27, 2020
Xbox Game Studios
Xbox One, PC