Twins Alyson and Tyler Ronan are about to meet again after being separated for 10 years and Tell Me Why tells their gripping story.
It's great to see a new narrative by the makers of story-driven titles such as Life is Strange and Captain Spirit, especially one that stars characters who aren't still in school. In Tell Me Why, the player swaps between the protagonist twins named Alyson and Tyler, allowing them to experience the story through both of their perspectives.
Tyler is finally leaving a program that he attended for 10 years after the twins witnessed the emotional and sudden death of their mother. Alyson picks him up after not seeing him since they were kids and although their initial reunion is awkward, you get to watch their relationship blossom over the next few chapters. When they first arrive back at their childhood home where their mother's death occurred, they're filled with anger and focus on cleaning up the house so they can sell it and move on with their lives. However, a new discovery makes them question what actually happened on that terrible day and the twins delve deeper and deeper into the mystery.
Tell Me Why is set in Alaska and living in a northern city in Canada, I felt at home in the snowy landscape. Nature and creativity are strong themes in how Tell Me Why looks and sounds. Many settings are in the outdoors and the twins even seem to prefer to be outside as they'd rather sit on their porch instead of in the warmth of their childhood home. There's a lot of detail in the indoor and outdoor spaces with special attention paid to their home. Their mother was a creative woodworker and that comes out in many details such as a couch with wooden bears engraved on the sides, a puzzle on the door to their mom's bedroom, and goblin figurines that the twins keep with them. Seeing the winter scenery and characters dressed in woolly sweaters and heavy boots made me look forward to winter and the woodworking reminded me of my Dad so walking around the twins' house felt very homey for me.
Now that you know about the setting, let's look at the characters. Alyson is a young adult dealing with losing her mother as well as her brother when she was young and she grew up in a small community where everyone knows everyone else's business. Tyler is her brother who has spent a decade being blamed for his mother's death while staying in a juvenile program as a mentee turned mentor.
Meanwhile, Uncle Eddy stepped in to raise Alyson when their mother died. He's a by-the-book police chief who feels responsible for the twins' wellbeing. Michael works at the same shop as Alyson and relates with Tyler and finally, Tessa is a friend of the twins' mother who clearly knows more than she's letting on. Unlike previous Dontnod titles that are full of teen angst, Tell Me Why centres on older characters and it's a refreshing change from the often sarcastic and unfunny lines that their stories are often plagued with.
Tell Me Why's gameplay is exactly what you'd expect from a narrative-driven title from Dontnod as you walk around, look at things, make the odd decision, and solve a few puzzles. One difference here is the Bond that Alyson and Tyler share which allows them to replay memories from their childhood. However, one twin will sometimes remember something differently to the other and part of the fun is deciding which one is more accurate. The twins can also talk to each other telepathically which makes for some unintentionally funny scenes where you'll wonder why a character they've been looking at for a long time hasn't mentioned their staring faces.
As you uncover more of the story, you'll see clips from the fateful day of their mother's death that slowly piece together what actually happened. I enjoyed this kind of storytelling as it felt similar to watching a murder mystery. In fact, there were parts in the story when the music and atmosphere was so tense that I thought, "Dontnod should really lean in to a full-on murder mystery game. I bet it would be great!" Then, I looked at Dontnod's projects page and saw something that sounds just like that called Twin Mirror. Sign me up!
In addition to the core gameplay, collectibles are pretty sparse in Tell Me Why. They come in the form of little wooden figurines that are used in the story later on. Meanwhile, decision-making plays a role but not much more of one than in other Dontnod games and certainly nothing like in a good David Cage title. In true Dontnod fashion, you get to see what decisions other players made at the end of each chapter which is always fun and I'm happy whenever I make decisions that are unpopular amongst other players.
Tell Me Why tells an engaging story of twins unraveling a mystery and forming a bond after being separated for most of their childhood. It's a more mature narrative set in a cozy Alaskan backdrop that could draw the attention of gamers who are interested in story-driven experiences yet may have been put off by all of the teen drama featured in previous Dontnod titles.
- + Picturesque Alaskan landscape makes for an impressively cozy backdrop
- + Interesting cast with unique stories to tell
- + Engaging twist on a murder mystery
- - Gameplay is generally lacking
- - Some writing can be predictable
- - Story arc is rather flat