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access_time August 27, 2020 at 9:00 AM in Reviews by David Poole

Review | Tell Me Why

Since the closing (and reopening) of Telltale Games, episodic narrative adventures haven’t been quite as frequent as they used to be. Thanks to Dontnod Entertainment, that void has been slightly filled thanks to their excellent Life is Strange series. With their experience in the genre, it seems Xbox Game Studios took the opportunity to task them with a new game. Tell Me Why was the result of this partnership, telling a new story about how our memories can affect us. It’s also a major step in the path to LGBTQ+ representation in video games. Telling the story over three weekly episodes, it needs to be said: this story is powerful.

Tell Me Why tells the tale of the Ronan twins, Tyler and Alyson, as they reunite and return to their childhood home ten years after the death of their mother. Losing their mother has some complicated circumstances, and without spoiling it, the twins will explore them throughout the game. The house brings about a plethora of memories, both happy and traumatic, though things are not always as they seem. As they begin to remember, they discover new pieces to the puzzle that is their past. Unfortunately, being from the fictional town of Delos Passing in Alaska, it’s a place where everyone knows who you are. This means that the people of the town all know more than they let on, withholding the truth.

While the story itself feels grounded in reality, the team at Dontnod incorporated a supernatural element into the mix as well. The twins are capable of communicating with an ability they dub as the “voice,” a sort of telepathic link between them. They’ve been aware of it since they were kids, and it allows them to talk privately, even in public. This phenomenon goes even further when they suddenly discover that they can recreate and share their memories. With the ability to witness memories together, it creates a major gameplay element throughout the game. Sometimes it will be to simply view them, but others you’ll be tasked with choosing between memories to determine the past you want to believe.

Speaking of the gameplay, Tell Me Why is a graphic adventure game, much like Life is Strange. Players will be able to interact with objects and elements of their environment as well as talk to characters in each scene. A lot of these interactions are optional, though some of them will be choices that determine how the story plays out. The game will play like your typical point and click adventure, though one thing that differentiates it from Life is Strange is the puzzles. Tell Me Why offers a good amount of puzzles that utilize observational skills. Players will gain information from their surroundings or even their “Book of Goblins” to solve the puzzles put before them.

It’s things like the Book of Goblins that I really love about Tell Me Why. There’s a whole fairy tale presentation that really gives a nice charm to the game. Not only does it help with puzzles, but it also takes a look into the imagination of children. This was their childhood and those memories remain as a symbolic reference to their lives. While not all the stories will have a use in the game, they still add to the lore of the Ronan twins. They’ll even have other mysteries for players to solve as they play throughout the story.

Graphically, this is one of Dontnod’s most beautiful games to date. It takes a similar approach to visuals that Life is Strange does, but adds a bit more realism to certain details. For example, the fabric of Tyler and Alyson’s clothes is fully defined and the environments are full of more characteristic features. Some of the views in the game are simply breathtaking, and each area encourages exploration. Not only will you find more background information, but you’ll also discover collectibles from their book.

Another element in Tell Me Why that I really enjoy is the music. Like the Life is Strange series, the game offers some really fitting licensed music, but the core soundtrack by Ryan Lott is strong too. Sometimes the music can go from uplifting to truly haunting, and it easily sets the tone for the narrative. When some of the heavier moments happen, you can really feel the sense of dread in the music. When each episode opens up, there’s a familiar sense of nostalgia that just washes over you. Of course, there are still the quieter moments too, which give way for the wonderful performances in the game.

The vocal performances are solid, though it feels like a less improvised approach like the Life is Strange series. Erica Lindbeck provides the voice for Alyson, providing a fun personality that can also get serious when needed. As for Tyler, well his performance goes a bit deeper. The character of Tyler is a transgender man, and for the role, it was only necessary to have a transgender actor portray him. August Aiden Black, Tyler’s voice actor, and trans himself, absolutely smashes it. His performance not only captures Tyler’s emotional struggles, but also the outrage of a person being fed lies all their life. Both twins feel real, and as someone with siblings myself, I can feel the bond between the two.

Of course, the rest of the cast is pretty solid too. Another standout includes Michael, played by The Revenant’s Forrest Goodluck. Michael’s sexuality is briefly touched upon with care, and the game pays respect to his Tlingit culture as well. Goodluck brings his own career experience to the role of Michael, providing a good anchor of support for the twins. We also have Emily O’Brien as Mary-Ann Ronan, the mother of the twins, appearing in memories and flashbacks. Her performance gives players the chance to judge the past for themselves, plotting the course of their family history.

One of the great themes of Tell Me Why is acceptance. The developers took great consideration in how they portray LGBTQ+ characters, even seeking professional guidance. They also went through great lengths to make the game respectful, even crafting a FAQ sheet for those with concerns. Honestly, the amount of effort put into appropriate representation deserves commendation, putting Dontnod ahead of many other developers when it comes to progress. Even though I consider myself decently educated on the subject, I still learned quite a bit.

With Tell Me Why focusing on story, those looking for action are likely going to be disappointed. While there are a lot of intense moments and shocking reveals, this is mostly a mystery game. It tells the story it wants to tell, and it does it incredibly well. It’s also still episodic in nature, but each episode will release one week apart. The idea is for players to take time to ruminate on the revelations and reflect on their choices. Luckily, it will be available on Game Pass, so those that are on the fence can give it a go.

When it comes down to it, Tell Me Why is yet another solid story from Dontnod Entertainment. It’s groundbreaking in its approach to representation, and yet it doesn’t make that the focus of the story. Of course, this won’t be a game for everyone, but those looking for fantastic writing, fun pop culture references and emotional storytelling will be in for a good time. The amazing performances and music also make it a stellar presentation. I highly recommend it if you’ve enjoyed any of the Life is Strange games, or even if you have a sibling helping you relate to the Ronan twins.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

A digital copy of Tell Me Why was provided to GotGame by Microsoft for this review.

GotGame is on OpenCritic, check out our reviews here.

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