Tell Me Why | Developer: Dontnod Entertainment | Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Played on: PC | Year: 2020
Immersive without being especially innovative, Tell Me Why is a sensitive and delicately-paced detective story that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Tell Me Why box art

Tell Me Why

After spending 10 years apart, twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan reunite in their Alaskan hometown to sell their late mother’s estate. Whilst confronting decade-old memories of their mom’s death, as well as her mishandling of Tyler’s gender transition, the twins stumble upon evidence suggesting things may not be as clear-cut as they remember. Players control both twins as they hunt for clues about what really happened all those years ago.

Tell Me Why retains Dontnod’s trademark air of earnest whimsy. The twins imagined themselves as goblins back when they were kids; a fantasy whose accompanying storybook they illustrated with colourful sketches and tales of adventure alongside animal companions. Naturally their unhinged mother was also devoted to the act, encouraging their creative stories during warm chats around the fireplace and creating elaborate puzzles for the twins to solve. It’s all wildly wholesome of course, and it builds a solid foundation for the detective work to come.

The same supernatural elements that characterised Life is Strange are introduced almost nonchalantly. Early on we discover the twins possess a telepathic bond that they leverage when interrogating suspects and analysing leads. The gameplay implications are slight; more important is how those powers tie the two characters together, with the game’s primary question asking how the twins will reconcile after a decade of separation. Will their reunion draw them closer together or ultimately split them apart? These decisions don’t create hugely divergent paths, but they do influence the ending you’ll see when all is said and done.

Tell Me Why tracks your plot choices across three lengthy chapters. Players can feel the sting of consequence early, and it’s a facet they’ll appreciate more when comparing their choices against the end-of-chapter percentages which show what other players said or did in the same situation. The stats suggest I was way more willing to create conflict than the majority, but I suspect at least one of these totals was glitched on PC considering it once put me in the lower zero percent of players! It feels like that Calculon double-checking his paperwork situation. Is this thing rigged or what?

Tell Me Why gameplay screenshots

Tell Me Why features puzzles and gameplay snippets of a much lighter fare. Story and character always matters most.

Although, not every choice is life-threateningly huge. I spent way too long deciding between candy or chips when buying one of the twins a treat from the local store, for instance. The game has a slower pace similar to Life is Strange 2, minus the broader scope. That aspect is crucial. Crazy stuff does not happen every five minutes here. It’s only a 0.3 on the David Lynch scale this time around, but the same influence can still be felt in some places; especially as it relates to Delos Crossing; the quiet and seemingly cheerful town that’s nevertheless bursting at the seams with people’s dirty little secrets.

The narrative is rarely heavy-handed as it explores themes like homosexuality, anxiety and emotional closure; beats that are uncommonly explored in video game form. Tell Me Why makes strong use of flashbacks to delve into some of this stuff, though it doesn’t have quite the same visual impact as the developers’ previous works.

The game also lacks the same magnetism. At the end of the first chapter — a good third of the game played — I wasn’t feeling the pull from this one. It’s cool to play a story-driven game with fewer gimmicks and more grounded stakes, but the tale lacks momentum in exchange. It also feels a bit scattered, ethically speaking. To avoid sharing spoilers, I’ll just say the ending didn’t give me a complete sense of catharsis, which isn’t great considering the focus on heavier themes such as childhood trauma and depression.

Fortunately, Tell Me Why is a 10-hour experience at the most, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome either. It’s in the shorter category of games from this family, and like most Dontnod adventures, it uses that time to get players caring.

“What am I even going to do with myself when it’s over?”, asks Alyson in reference to her favourite TV show.

“Get invested in the lives of REAL people?”

You said it, sister.

Tell Me Why on Steam »