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Video game developers Dontnod Entertainment released the first installment of their latest adventure game Tell Me Why on PC and Xbox in late August 2020. Tell Me Why is an episodic game with three parts; the final episode released just two short weeks later in September 2020. It is a story-driven game centered around the Ronan twins, Alyson and Tyler, who have reunited at their childhood home in the fictional Delos Crossing, Alaska ten years after being separated following the death of their mother, MaryAnn.
I didn’t know much about this game going in. I originally heard of it from listening to the Backlog Chronicles podcast. I was a big fan of Life is Strange, the beloved game by the same developer, and when I heard they released a new game, I instantly installed the first chapter. For anyone unaware, Life is Strange is also an episodic adventure game where the protagonist, Max Caulfield, can rewind time. The player molds the story by rewinding and changing outcomes. I fell in love with Life is Strange in the first few minutes of the game. I eagerly awaited every episode to be released, dropping everything in my life to play the newest chapter upon release (though if you tell anyone, I’ll deny this statement). Because I strongly enjoyed Life is Strange, I was really looking forward to Tell Me Why. Both games are similar in graphic style and are structured similarly with exploration of the environment, completion of puzzles, and interacting with surroundings. In both games, the player has a selection of choices to make that will affect the outcome of the story (consequences for the characters’ actions). The player’s choices are recapped at the end of each chapter with a comparison to other players’ choices. As a fan of the first Life Is Strange game, I found the familiarity to be quite comforting. I personally enjoy story-driven games where actions have consequences and the ending isn’t quite the same for everyone.
The two main characters in Tell Me Why are Alyson, a beautiful artist who enjoys astronomy, and her handsome twin brother, Tyler, a transgender male who enjoys fishing and wants to be a park ranger. (I might add here that Tyler also has a very cool haircut.) The twins are supportive of each other, and Alyson is so accepting of Tyler. Their relationship is one I’m not to forget anytime soon with dialogue such as:
Alyson: “Whatever you say, horse face.”
Tyler: “We have the same face!”
Now, you know how some of us have heard sayings that twins have a secret bond? Well these twins have a secret voice they use to speak to each other telepathically. Interestingly, they recall different memories of events that transpired throughout their childhood. The memories are interactive, sometimes requiring the player to choose the perceived truth between the siblings’ memories. (Me playing this game: How do I know this is the right memory?! What if I choose incorrectly?! Oh my God! Holy anxiety, Batman.)
We start the game as Alyson, and then play as Tyler, as the two prepare to see each other for the first time in ten years. This reunion is made in part by the desire to sell their childhood home. As we progress through the story, Tyler and Alyson explore their old home and town, reliving the memories of their adolescence and uncovering layers of secrets along the way. Laced throughout the game are flashbacks of Alyson and Tyler (formerly “Ollie,” but a birth name was never provided for Tyler) as children. This is a story of a brother and sister in search of the truth. To quote Tyler, “Memory is a tricky thing.” Can they trust their own memories, and if so, whose is correct? What was their mother trying to tell them from the grave? I did find the story compelling, but I am intentionally leaving this part vague. As this is a story-based game, it would be unfair to tell you anything else.
You will play as both Alyson and Tyler, and the transition between players is pretty seamless. The gameplay is simple. You walk, interact with objects, and converse with other characters. One of my favorite aspects of video games is exploration. I love wandering around to see what I can find, including searching for collectibles. There is plenty to explore in Tell Me Why, albeit in a limited setting. This is not an open world game by any means, but there are a myriad of objects to interact with anyhow. You will also find plenty of conversation, and you may sometimes wish the people would shut up, just like in real life! When prompted, you are given several options for a response to the conversation. There are a few short fetch quests to complete in order to progress through the story. I recommend turning off the controller vibration in the settings, though. When a memory is nearby, the controller will intensely and frequently vibrate, which I found to be extremely annoying when trying to focus on characters’ conversations. There will be a flurry of glitter on the screen showing you there is a memory nearby anyway, so the vibration is not necessary.
The twins and their mother wrote an adorable book of fictional fairy tales called “The Book of Goblins.” (Side note here that this book was designed with love. It is the best part of the game.) A quick read-through of the fairy tales will give you hints to complete the slew of puzzles. Nothing overly complicated, except for one puzzle that I never understood, even after looking up the solution. And one puzzle that required me to open the book, search through the pages, just to find out I only needed to insert a coin. It did take me a little while to understand the hints the book was trying to give me, though I obviously figured it out. I could see this book being very annoying for someone who doesn’t want to take the time to read the tales.
Aside from “The Book of Goblins,” there are a few details about this game which really stand out to me. A big one is the music. The game composer, Ryan Lott, did a phenomenal job setting the tones of this story. My first impression was that the music really complemented the atmosphere of the game and didn’t overshadow the story. I admit at first I felt it was very subtle and easily missed when not listening for it. However, by the second and third chapters, there are some intense scenes, and we were treated to some zealous, pulsing music at exactly the precise moments. I’m not joking when I say a couple of scenes were causing me some anxiety. There were times when I was so deep and focused on what was happening, and I can honestly credit those moods to the music.
One of the first things you may notice when starting up the game is its resemblance to Life is Strange. What is the art style? Uhh… animated? I kid. I’m certainly no expert in the art department, but the graphics are quite stunning. This isn’t a realistic, movie-cinematic style of game. But it is a beautiful piece of art. The story takes place in a fictional, picturesque Alaskan town near a peaceful lake, lush forest, and stunning snow-covered mountains. You will fish, shop in a little market, and throw toys at someone’s face. It’s great! Delos Crossing is certainly the charming, rustic town I dream of living in… you know, the small town, quiet, isolated life. Ahhhh, sounds perfect… ahem, sorry. I would also like to mention I found the wood-carved collectibles to be so fantastic that I actually found myself wishing I could buy one of each for my home. The attention to detail is stellar.
An important feature which I found useful (especially for this review) was the ability to replay the chapter in “isolation mode,” allowing me to play segments over again without altering my choices. You are also given the option to replay chapters and save any changes. At first I begrudgingly accepted one of the choices I had made in the first chapter, but I am quite pleased with how that consequence was resolved later.
I did not encounter any problems with the game, apart from some audio issues in a few segments. There were times when Tyler or Alyson spoke you could see their mouths moving, but the audio would not begin until they were close to done with their statements, or they would begin and then be cut off. I found it to be distracting from the story during the times I encountered this issue; however, it was not a game-changing problem.
So, all in all, Tell Me Why is a fun, story-telling video game with memorable protagonists. I’m satisfied with the ending I received. There was nothing I would go back and change as far as decisions I made because I accept responsibility for the actions I made my characters take, and also I feel the game answered the questions I had. Actually, that’s not entirely true… I do want to know if there was anyone else who impersonated a T-Rex typing? Just me? That’s fair.