Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Developer: Dontnod |Release date: August 27th (9/3 Chapter 2, 9/10 chapter 3)
Tell Me Why is a purposeful, well-researched, and well-intended experience that gameifies a largely realistic story that many can relate to. This is about a pair of twins that must confront their past in order to come to terms with their place in the world.
I may be a little vague with the topics I bring up here, but that’s because almost anything I can say could be a spoiler–this three-chapter game is nothing without its spectacular plot. Also, I’m saying it right now: YOU NEED TO PLAY THIS GAME.
The only reason I might not recommend Tell Me Why would be if you are particularly affected by triggers like childhood trauma, transphobia, depression, and suicide (this may make you feel better about it). All of these topics are the basis of the emotional story between twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan. Their mother was killed under dubious circumstances when they were preteens, leading to their separation and Tyler’s literal transition. There’s also a supernatural element to the twins’ connection that makes for some interesting gameplay and choice-making.
As with the Life is Strange series (also from Dontnod), there are several choices that lead to different paths, culminating in at least two endings–I haven’t confirmed how many total, but I know I got the “happiest” ending. Gameplay consists of doing detective work to unravel your family history, conversing with townsfolk, and some low-intensity puzzling minigames.
The world-building here is the icing on the cake, as not only are you shown around a realistically rendered (but fictional) rural Alaskan town, but you are entrenched in the people politics, the social commentary, and the environmental trappings of the location. This includes traditional art and spiritual references to the Tlingit culture, an in-depth exploration of small-town policing, and a keen nod of progressivism and environmental awareness that pervades your protagonists’ thinking and paints a clear picture of who these people are.
Tell Me Why’s gameplay is supported by great design, from the art style and beautiful character models, to the somber and occasionally chilling soundtrack. Several themes throughout bring about similar feelings for me as titles like Gris and Celeste did prior, namely the visual representation of grief and actual gameplay of relieving a panic attack. These things could seem heavy-handed, but the care taken to bring realistic emotion in the performances and writing along with the extremely detailed environment brought the authenticity. I genuinely felt for all the characters involved and I believe the story progressed naturally. The developers wrote a children’s book of fables to match the story beats, for fuck’s sake. The thoughtfulness of the creators of Tell Me Why can not be undersold.
The three chapters are also extremely well paced, with completionists taking around 10 hours to complete the first playthrough (there are some collectibles and of course branching endings to unlock in additional sessions). Tell Me Why is available on Game Pass for Xbox/PC (also Steam) or to buy for $30, so either way, you’re getting a killer deal however you play.
I’m really struggling here to not just glow about this game. My only two negatives would be that sometimes there are some uncanny valley animation issues during cutscenes and Chapter Two’s story choices for the trans character Tyler were unsatisfying in the moment-they made more sense in Chapter Three, however.
If you’ve been feeling out of sorts and can use emotional video games as a cathartic release, I can’t recommend Tell Me Why highly enough. Even if your personal experiences aren’t quite the same as the twins’, you should find something here to learn from, or otherwise expand your emotional horizons. Video games are an art form. Art is therapy.
Score – 87/100
3–AVAILABILITY (out of 5)
5–CONTROLS (out of 5)