Tell Me Why: Episode 1 Review — Skeletons in the Closet (PC)

DONTNOD are just like superheroes: they are always here to help the repressed. This time, they're focusing on a very sensitive subject - transgendered people. Even it is risky, somebody had to approach this theme at some point. Let us look to where that has gotten us today with Tell Me Why.

Tell Me Why: Episode 1 Review — Skeletons in the Closet (PC) Cover

After the Life is Strange dilogy was released, the french studio DONTNOD Entertainment proved to be a group with its own vision, who is not afraid of taking on controversial topics. If in Life is Strange we saw the value of a true friendship, the second part of the game switches their attention onto fraternal relations and racism issues. These games etched deeply into our minds and I couldn’t wait for Tell We Why to come out. But I must warn you that if you are expecting to see a compelling story similar to Max and Chloé’s one, this is not really the case. It’s best to perceive Tell Me Why as a standalone project, where challenging subjects like mental health and sexism are explored, but there’s still too many gaps in terms of storytelling. 

Tell Me Why is available on Steam and the Microsoft Store for you regional pricing.

Story – Bury me under the plinth

The story unfolds in Alaska, where twins Alison and Tyler are finally reunited. Right away Tyler is presented as a transgender protagonist with bags and bags of mental issues: post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety caused by the murder of his own mother, even in terms of self-defence. He could hold all these demons solely with the help of therapy, which is an additional point DONTNOD Entertainment is showing us. A bit straightforward, but the importance of this topic offset any shortcomings.

Alyson and Tyler in the flesh.

Alyson and Tyler in the flesh.

So Tyler and Alyson are reunited ten years later and all this happiness was marred by the shady past of their mother, which they would wish to bury along with the old house. They must find a clue to this riddle and decide to visit their parental house before its sale, where a whole bunch of traumatic memories arise. Since I had a brother too, even if we were not twins, I’m truly delighted to see such a bond between those two characters and sometimes this makes me want to cry. How they are facing problems or just make fun of each other. I’m also happy that Tyler and Alyson act like real people, except for some particular cheesy jokes and replicas. At this point I would’ve given the game the highest score, but there is always a but.

Narrative corner

Since Tell Me Why is mainly a story-driven game, it’s the narrative we need to worry about. Tyler and Alyson bond perfectly, but I have some doubts about the main riddle of the story. By the end of the Chapter 3, I have several suspicions about the dénouement of the story, so maybe I should call it weak storytelling. But I will wait for the upcoming episodes and cross my fingers that I’m wrong.

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

Apart from that, I must point out that the mother figure is a bit too vague and that it seems that it was added at the very last moment. I mean it could be a father, grandmother, neighbour or whatever. The deceased mother appears to be an antagonist, but the more we learn about her, the less we understand why she deserved such a sad end. What prevented the kids from just knocking their mother out? I perceive her as a victim, even though she was definitely out of her mind. However, I can be wrong and I hope that the follow-up episodes will fill in the blanks. 

Time for revolution, or not?

Nevertheless, Tyler is a revolutionary character in the game industry, being the first transgender in an AA title. I know this is a sensitive subject, so I would be really careful about my judgements. By traveling back to their hometown of Delos Crossing, the twins encounter several typical small-town citizens. Some of them are avoiding Tyler, while others try to understand or just be polite. It seems weird, since we all know how people tend to “accept” differences, especially with regard to small and distant towns. “Stigma” it’s called. I was so eager to see Tyler struggle with the locals, so that could be a good presentation for all of us. I wanted to see how it is to be a transgender person in our modern world. But alas, the developers opted to moderate their views and issued a typical picture of a small cosy town, where all the locals are hospitable, kind and turn a blind eye to strangers’ “quirks”. So the topic could not be tackled in sufficient depth.

Tell Me Why - Official Chapter One Launch Trailer

Gameplay – memories always play a dirty trick

And here we approach the main and most disputable gameplay mechanics – deja vus and telepathy. So Tyler and Alyson can share an inner voice, which allows them to communicate telepathically and recall memories of the past in order to find a clue, a special item or even a collectible. And interestingly, the memories are not necessarily reliable, since the twins remember things differently. Have you ever heard of the fuzzy trace theory of human psychology? It’s exactly the same thing as the scene recreation in The Sherlock Holmes or the Batman: Arkham series. Only there’s one great difference: in Tell Me Why, this is the main game mechanic.

But overall, DONTNOD Entertainment are trying hard to do a great job to show through these different memories how the twins were close to each other, since their mother was crazy and they had only each other. I don’t know how well it worked, since I had problems finding those memories and was stuck at some moments. Especially in the supermarket, where the blinking lights, leading to the unfolding memories, were scattered here and there.  

Seeing the past in one eye, and the present in the other.

Seeing the past in one eye, and the present in the other.

Apart from that, the gameplay has little to offer. A few hit or miss puzzles here and there and the choices are made for the record and far less impactful than in the aforementioned Life is Strange. DONTNOD’s signature choice maker simply doesn’t work as it should. I specially tried all available different scenarios and found out that our choices are only slightly affecting Tyler’s and Alyson’s relationships and what they do with their lives.

Audio and Visuals – Alaska is heaven on earth

Personally for me, the game visuals are true eye candy. Simply put, Tell Me Why is a well-polished take on Life is Strange. The ferry ride in the beginning of the game will knock your socks off by a breathtaking view of the Alaskan landscape. You are given the opportunity to observe distant gorgeous mountains, with seagulls singing alongside. The water textures amazed me the most; this is a true step forward in terms of graphics. Regarding the animation, I don’t see a crucial difference, and yes, the characters could seem “wooden” sometimes, especially when they are trying to smile or convey some emotions, but overall I would not put it on the spot. 

We all need some fresh air.

We all need some fresh air.

In general, DONTNOD Entertainment has never had a problem with soundtracks as they have some kind of an inner feeling at choosing the best tunes to underline characters’ emotional states. And Tell Me Why is not an exception.

Tell Me Why was reviewed for PC via Steam.

There’s no point in finding answers to the question in the title; think of it just as a new beginning of a captivating story. I enjoyed meeting Tyler and Alyson - you don’t meet such vivid characters everyday, but was disappointed by the central intrigue of the game. However, the game merits the attention for setting a new trademark for transgender representation in the video games industry and hopefully it will gain momentum in the future. Tyler and Alyson's journey will not leave you indifferent, and regardless of some issues with the storytelling itself, DONTNOD did a good job and I cannot wait to see other episodes. Life is Strange fans have to get over the past, since the studio’s previous work is nothing compared to Tell Me Why. And it’s totally okay.
  • Gorgeous setting
  • A new trademark for transgender representation
  • A perfect pair of lead characters much like Chloe and Max
  • A big step forward in terms of visuals
  • Weak central intrigue
  • Some dialogues and jokes seem unnatural
  • Generic secondary characters

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