In the lead up to launch, I was keen to get my hands on Tell Me Why. Dontnod Entertainment has always come across as an ambitious developer, beginning with their first official title – Remember Me. Ironically, it’s not a game that many actually remember, as they’ve since become known for Life is Strange; an episodic adventure title which raised their status and cemented their expertise within the genre.
Of course, ambition doesn’t always lead to success. As much as I loved Life is Strange, it’s sequel didn’t vibe with me for a number of reasons. Despite this, Tell Me Why still caught my eye. From early trailers and information, it looked like it would be much more grounded than Dontnod’s previous titles, looking to tackle real-world issues while incorporating the kind of storytelling that they’ve become known for.
Tell Me Why follows Alison and Tyler Ronan; twin siblings that were separated ten years ago following the death of their Mother. They finally reunite in their hometown of Delos Crossing, but upon reconnecting with each other they realise that what they thought took place on the night of their Mother’s death might not be what they remembered it to be. As you make your way through the game’s three chapters, you’ll need to solve puzzles and make difficult decisions to uncover the truth. Guiding you through your playthrough is the game’s “Bond” mechanic, a special link between the Ronan twins that allows them to replay their memories and communicate with each other telepathically.
Alison and Tyler work well as dual-protagonists and you could certainly make the claim that they’re some of Dontnod’s best characters to date. Tyler, a transgender male who transitioned while away from Alison, is an incredibly likeable character. He’s much more introverted than Alison, often being more dry-humoured and restrained than his sister. Alison, on the other hand, is more expressive than her brother and having grown up in Delos Crossing, she feels more at home than he does.
Despite some differences between their personalities, Alison and Tyler are both clearly bearing the impacts of their Mother’s death even years after it took place. You have to praise Dontnod for the development of these two characters in particular, as not only does their trauma feel grounded in reality, but the lengths that they’ve gone to create authentic characters, especially in Tyler’s instance, is outstanding.
In Tell Me Why Dontnod haven’t held back from focusing on important issues that play a role in society today. Gender identity, sexual orientation, and mental illness are all explored in Tell Me Why, with the team going to great lengths to communicate these themes appropriately. For those that are unaware, Dontnod consulted with GLAAD, subject matter experts, Xbox user research audiences, community members, and even their own talent in order to ensure the diverse characters within the game were represented in a nuanced, authentic, and respectful way. Not only is Tell Me Why a great game (I’ll detail why that is the case below), but it’s also a great example of how videogames can properly represent diversity through their characters and storytelling.
Much like the game’s characters, Tell Me Why also does a good job in building the game’s world, although there is room for improvement. A simple, clean UI design works wonders during gameplay and menu navigation, and on a graphical level Tell Me Why is Dontnod’s best-looking game yet. Exploring the cold, quiet town of Delos Crossing feels almost calming at times, which is somewhat of a contrast to the events that took place ten years prior. It’s certainly an interesting setting, and while you have plenty of things to analyse and check out, it feels like much of it doesn’t factor into the overarching narrative. It would’ve been great to see more content with smaller events taking place that the player could potentially impact through their decisions, much like what we’ve seen in past games from the same genre.
Major choices that players will need to make throughout Tell Me Why are certainly impactful, more so than previous titles. Many of the choices are presented to the player through Alison and Tyler’s bond, the new mechanic that lets you choose which of their perspectives is more accurate. There’s definitely a sense of importance in the decisions that the game throws your way, making you feel like whatever choice you make will play a significant role in the story. The game features a branching narrative with multiple endings so ultimately your decisions do in fact play a role in how things turn out, but when you factor in a cast of well-written characters and a thought-provoking storyline, the importance placed on a player to make what they feel is the best choice is increased significantly.
Tell Me Why does experience a few niggling issues, although they’re certainly not game-breaking by any means. Character animations can be stiff at times, with some scenes featuring a few questionable facial animations too. There’s also the rare technical hiccup as well. For whatever reason, Alison and Tyler’s jackets sometimes seemed like they had a mind of their own. On random occasions, the jackets would jolt slightly before readjusting themselves. These issues are minimal however, so don’t be surprised if you make it through the game without noticing them at all.
On a personal level, I’m not quite sure if the game surpasses Life is Strange, but there’s definitely an argument to be made that Tell Me Why is the strongest game that Dontnod has developed over their 12-year history. They have not only succeeded in creating a game that grabs the player’s attention from the get-go but one that also exceeds in their attention to detail in character development and representation.
Tell Me Why has been designed to be played with breaks in between, an attempt to foster discussion and thought around the themes presented within the game. It’ll be a conversation that I’ll follow with a keen eye, as I’m highly interested in seeing how well it works out.
Tell Me Why Chapter 1 is available today on Xbox One and PC.
*Diginade was provided with an early code for the purpose of this review
Tell Me Why
Tell Me Why succeeds in Dontnod’s attempt to craft an authentic, grounded story that approaches and represents individual groups and real-world issues. Despite a few shortcomings, Tell Me Why is a great addition to the episodic adventure genre and one that you won’t want to miss out on.
- Dontnod’s most interesting narrative yet
- Great world and character building
- An authentic approach to diversity and representation
- A clean aesthetic and UI design
- A few technical issues
- More side content would have been nice