Tell Me Why is DontNod Entertainment’s latest game offering. Following the success of Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2, DontNod takes another shot at an episodic narrative adventure game, this time with another compelling character, or, in this case, pair of characters that will keep you interested from the first moments in the game to the last. Here are some reasons why we think you should play Tell Me Why.
A Game Centered on Inclusion
Inclusion is a huge topic these days and gaming has been at the forefront to ensure that today’s games are all about making people feel seen and heard. Over the last several years, we’ve seen more minorities included in games from LGBTQ+ to people of color to any one of hundreds of different ways that people identify themselves. It’s a great trend and it’s one that DontNod has been part of since 2015 and the release of Life is Strange which included a lesbian main character. Life is Strange 2 featured two Hispanic protagonists. And now we have Tell Me Why that spotlights two main characters, one of whom is trans, a literal first in gaming with Tyler Ronan as the first trans playable character in any mainstream game.
What makes Tyler such a compelling character isn’t just the fact that he was created as part of an association between DontNod and GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). His creation came about as a part of a broader goal by developers to work with GLAAD to ensure that Tyler’s life was accurately portrayed, both in terms of resistance he faces from folks in his small Alaskan town but also in how he views himself, how he feels about changes in his life, how he is cautious about finding a relationship, and how he and his sister navigate these new waters separately and together. But most importantly, rather than telling his story through the lens of other characters, Tyler himself narrates what it means to be trans, something truly remarkable and groundbreaking in gaming today.
While Tyler’s trans experience is the centerpiece of the inclusive storyline, it’s not the only one. Being set in a small Alaskan town gave developers a chance to explore Tlingit culture, a Native American tribe from the area. Developers worked with cultural representatives to ensure that the Tlingits were represented accurately and respectfully once again proving that DontNod is dedicated to accurate and thoughtful representation.
A Compelling Storyline
The story in Tell Me Why is a good one if overly stretched out at times. It centers on the Tyler returning to his small Alaskan town to reacquaint himself with his sister and the townsfolk as they prepare to sell their family home. Their mother has been dead for ten years and while the case was solved at the time, not everything is as it appeared back then. The story bounces back and forth between past and present through a unique “memory system” that lets the twins offer their specific memories of events as they come to terms with the events around a tragic night a decade ago.
The mystery is presented to players across three chapters. Each one begins on a narrative beat and ends with a cliff-hanger. In between, the twins talk to townsfolk, share memories as they clean out the house, and learn more about the events before and after their mother’s death. Maryanne’s life is explored through the stories she wrote for her children. While seemingly fictionalized, the pair realize that their Maryanne was using the stories to tell her own life’s tales. As Alyson and Tyler piece together the meaning of the stories, they begin to understand what happened that fateful night.
There are times that the story seems overly expanded to make it fit neatly into the three chapters, but that’s a minor point. It’s well-told and keeps the player interested throughout the sixish hours of gameplay.
Fun Puzzles From a Story Within a Story
As mentioned above, the twins’ mother has written a number of “fairytales” that are, in reality, stories from her own life. One of the game mechanics has the player reading these stories while examining a number of murals she has painted throughout the family home. The stories offer clues to how to solve puzzles to further explain Maryanne so that she is more clearly understood. The twins discover that she was much more than they imagined and that memories are not always an accurate portrayal of a person.
The puzzles are fun and interesting and the fairytales DontNod included as the key to understanding Maryanne are fun to read. The illustrations are equally cool. Putting the two together to unlock her secrets is a lot of fun, though I wish there had been more!
A Familiar Format
While Tell Me Why has some new elements added (the twin’s shared memories, for instance), the overall feeling of the game is very familiar for anyone who has played any of the Life is Strange games. The music also has a familiar bent to it that also lends familiarity to the experience. Yet even though the game feels like other titles in the developers’ stable of games, it never feels too familiar, if that makes sense. The setting, the new features, the interesting story, and the new characters all add up to a brand new adventure that one can slip into easily.
A Complete Three-Chapter Story
The best part of Tell Me Why as it is today is that it is a complete story. Unlike all of the Life is Strange games, this one came out in three chapters in three consecutive weeks rather than over the course of several months. Anyone trying the game now will have the complete 6-hour adventure at their fingertips.
All in all, Tell Me Why is a great game for those who love narrative adventures with a twist. It’s well worth the $30 price tag and I can only hope that a new game from this talented team of developers is coming along soon. I can’t wait!
Tell Me Why is available for PC via Steam and on Xbox One.