Title: Tell Me Why: Chapter 1
Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Genre: Narrative Adventure
Available on: PC, Xbox One
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: Tell Me Why
Release Date: August 27th, 2020
Those who’ve known me for some time know that I’m in love with Life is Strange 1. The relationship between Max and Chloe, the beautiful set pieces, and brilliant storytelling combine to make for a compelling experience. I wasn’t entirely into narrative games before that series, but it helped me learn just how powerful they can be. Following the second season of Life is Strange, DONTNOD is back with Tell Me Why, a story of two siblings rebuilding their bond and returning to their past.
Back to the Past
Tell Me Why: Chapter 1 spends a lot of time setting up the story of these two. They’ve been apart for ten years, and thus their bond does need to be reformed. Their journey back to their home establishes what both characters are dealing with in life. While these interactions are honestly rather slow and drawn in the first hour and a half, they’re necessary to help us feel for Alyson and Tyler. You feel like you’re rebuilding the bond as well, which is great for immersing you into the world. DONTNOD is infamous for this kind of storytelling, and it’s clear they’ve taken time to improve upon it immensely. Everything feels more genuine and real.
Everything gets thrown for a loop when they make several discoveries regarding their past, not to mention a new power. This power lets them revisit moments of their past, letting them remember how they were as kids. This would be a wonderful power for both of them if their memories didn’t conflict, forcing the player to choose who’s recalling the events correctly. We don’t know much about the impact on the story these have just yet, but I’m interested to see the implications. There’s a lot of places they could go with this, especially in the relationship between Alyson and Tyler.
Sibling Bonds in the Face of Adversity
Both characters and their backstories are well fleshed out as well. Both feel very in-depth, while it’s also clear that there’s a lot hidden about their past. We know a lot about their stories now, but the developers are careful to leave hints of things to come. You’re constantly asking questions regarding the traumatizing event of years ago, along with what they’re hiding from one another. They go as far as denying you information, only adding to that hunger for me. As far as the characters themselves, it’s clear there’s a lot of chemistry there. You can sense their bond growing through their voices, which only further immerses you into the world. The only issue comes to the jokes they share, as they feel rather cheesy and forced. Hopefully, that’s something they improve upon in Tell Me Why’s upcoming chapters.
As you’ve seen from much of the promotional material though, it’s clear the game puts a heavy focus on the fact that Tyler is transgender. The game tries to better explore how transgender people feel in their daily lives and does so beautifully. We haven’t had bigger games explore the topic of being transgender, which helps to give Tell Me Why a unique and thoughtful identity. I can’t say much about how accurate that portrayal is due to ignorance, but I feel I understand a lot more from their point of view. With the voice actor for Tyler being transgender himself though, I trust this is an accurate portrayal that he supports.
This subject translates a lot into the gameplay, including one particular decision early on. I won’t go into it much thus to not spoil plot details, but the decision is well thought out and challenges you. How you choose to approach the person helps to shape how you see Tyler and his thoughts & feelings. This challenge and the consequences fuel much of Tell Me Why’s decision design. Life is Strange’s choices were hard-hitting, but Tell Me Why’s takes those and goes beyond what’s expected. There were many times throughout my playthrough where I felt challenged with how to proceed, which is exactly how choice design in narrative games should work.
These choices and interactions are animated beautifully, much stronger than previous DONTNOD games. Everything from facial animations, body movements, and artistic choices are all made to convey emotions and beauty much better. As I mentioned previously, much of the emotions characters experience are felt through you, and the animations only enforce that. While these details may seem minuscule in the grand scheme of things, you notice it when playing through different pieces of Tell Me Why.
All of this is wrapped together by the beauty of Alaska, designed excellently while keeping realism in mind. Your standard one-story houses and snow-covered sections are all there, as many would expect. With forests as far as the eye can see, it’s hard to take your eyes off Tell Me Why’s setting. Consulting with a friend, who is conveniently Alaskan native, he said everything feels accurate and is portrayed well. This is especially true of the game’s exploration of native culture, including the power of gift-giving. Being someone who doesn’t leave my province much (let alone my house), it’s a breath of fresh air and a chance to understand another culture a lot more.
Verdict: Tell Me Why: Chapter 1 provides a strong start to this emotional thrill ride, with a unique setting. Everything feels so real, from the appearance of Alaska to the emotions characters convey. With accurate depictions of native culture and transgender daily life, Tell Me Why provides a solid look into something less explored. There may be some issues in the pacing and humor, but everything the game does right makes these issues minor. DONTNOD proves that they can still make wonderful narrative adventures, with a first chapter that leaves me hungering for the next piece of the puzzle.
- Great story
- Well fleshed out characters
- Beautiful visuals
- Meaningful animations
- Unique subject and tone
- Interesting power implications
- Humour feels forced
- Pacing is slow at times