DONTNOD Entertainment has inspired a new wave of point and click title’s that allow players to shape their own narrative. 2015’s Life is Strange showed its unique take on what was once Telltale’s market to dominate. The supernatural series of events that unfolded a time-warping mystery, heavily inspired by crime-investigation entertainment such as cult hit, Veronica Mars. We were proud to name its initial season as DASHGAMER 2015 Game of the Year, due to its original plot, characters that connect on a personal level, strong writing, and excellent cast that elevate and amplify each individual portrayed. However, following its first foray into its interactive visual novel series, its sequels never quite lived up to the impact its two protagonists bought to the table. Before the Storm was a great prequel, giving us some insight into Chloe’s life before rebelling.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit saw a slight disconnect from the Life is Strange universe, and placed us within a broken household, with a struggling father trying his best to raise his child while battling his own demons, but again only revealed the sub-plot to what would become the core focal point of Life is Strange’s second season. While there was a strong political message delivered within its integral plotline, the sequential follow-up from its initial entry saw complete control torn away from players with a narrow window for narrative alteration. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it was the foundation of what made Max and Chloe’s escapades so engrossing.
Albeit, this leads us to Tell Me Why, DONTNOD’s latest title that presumably takes us away from the Life is Strange universe, and places us within an entirely new story. While it may be a fresh start in some manner, there’s no doubt that it draws heavy inspiration from its predecessors and evolves as an aesthetically superior demonstration from anything the French Studio had delivered prior. The XBOX Exclusive strives to deliver a message of overall acceptance. There’s no doubt that its plot will stir some controversy within the LGBTQI+ community, given its representation can be a sensitive subject if publicised incorrectly. I for one cannot directly speak for its representation, given that I am a straight cis-male, but can relate on a humanitarian basis.
Establishing a deep seeded connection between the bonds of family members that accept or reject, may trigger some repressed or unfound emotions playing this title. Sure, it’s risky for the studio to go down this route but the amalgamation of its integral figures, given absolute power to wield and warp their own timeline from the present ultimately invites players to experience a new chapter in DONTNOD’s concrete screenwriting. Tell Me Why ultimately grasps everything that made the Life is Strange franchise magnetising with an outlandish plot connecting supernatural elements with devious deities, nuances that maintain the studio’s continuity within its imaginative delivery, and a prevalence in establishing new characters and their own unique qualities.
With the first Chapter now available via XBOX Game Pass, I was able to commence my playthrough of the title. The remaining two chapters are set to release in mid-to-late September. Traditionally, we review a title based on its framework and foundations with an overall score given. With the entire game released in three parts, I’ll be reviewing each chapter with its own respective score out-of-ten. After the title’s completion I will tally each chapter’s respective figure with an average for the title’s overall score. Fair warning, this review may contain spoilers as the title itself is dependent on being narrative driven.
Chapter One: Homecoming
Episode One: Homecoming Platforms: XBOX One & Windows Release Date: August 27, 2020 Playtime: 3 Hours
Our story begins with a young child being interrogated by Police over the murder of their mother. The child explains to the officer that they went to show their mother their new haircut but had been confronted with the mother armed, threatening their life. Brandishing a shotgun, she had expressed harm on the child but the youngster states that they retaliated and stabbed their own mother, killing her. We’re then taken to November 2nd, 2015 – which might I add, is the original release year of Life is Strange… but I digress. Fireweed Residential Center is a boarding school for juvenile orphans taken into custody by ruling of a judge and its jury. It’s there we meet Tyler Ronan, a 21 year old trans-male who struggled dealing with the death of his mother, yet coming to terms of his past and being separated by his twin sister, Alyson.
After the events that occurred over a decade earlier, the two reunite to revisit and sell off their mother’s old house. After meeting with her brother, Alyson drives them both home to collect their belongings not before discovering that the house had been maintained, and completely locked-up. Trying their best to enter through every means possible, the pair begin to experience apparitions of their past selves, claiming the ability was something they both shared and could experience together. Remembering an old floor shaft that lead to the laundry room, Tyler attempts to remove a shoddy boarding job that had blocked their childhood “underground lair”, that was placed underneath the housing’s back porch. Unable to break off the fixed planks, Alyson suggests they try to find a screwdriver to disassemble the makeshift obstruction.
Using their powers to discover the hidden key to the tool shed, Tyler collects the screwdriver and makes haste towards the childhood lair. While creeping under the house, the twins discover their old telepathic connection that allows them to converse with their minds. Upon entering the house, the two being to reminisce over fond memories they had growing up, despite their troubled upbringing. These memories trigger flashbacks to their mother’s unacceptance of Tyler’s choice of being male. In firm belief that the pair were in the right for what had happened to their mother, they collect their belongings, not before Tyler tries tracking down his Diary. Recalling an event that transpired on the eve of his mother’s death, the two argued over the Diary, and how his mother had no right to look through it and demanded she hand it over.
The siblings break into their mother’s old bedroom, where Tyler’s Diary was still placed upon a desk full of materials relating to transgender children. Conflicted by these discoverings, Tyler begins to panic over the entire situation, with Alyson reaffirming that the cause of their mother’s death had nothing to do with Tyler’s choice of sexuality, but about their own wellbeing. An emotional wreck, the pair take a break to reminisce some more not before being confronted by a larger gentlemen, armed with a shotgun ready to shoot them both.
Now for those familiar with the Life is Strange series, will have no problem adapting to Tell Me Why’s control scheme. Walking around each setting, interacting with other characters and discovering new pathways make for an instantaneous homecoming for those initiated with Max and Chloe’s first adventure. Apparitions are highlighted by a sixth sense that are triggered by holding down the space button on your PC, and clicking on an illuminated field of fluttering speckles. Each events helps progress your narrative, giving the player clues on their pathway towards revealing the truths about Tyler’s past. Portraying both Tyler and Alyson, the pair may lead you to a series of crossroads where the twins recall things differently from one another. This essentially lets the player forge their own path, choosing to believe one’s memories over the other.
Given that this was the introductory chapter, there hasn’t been much to go by other than being acquainted with our protagonists and their individual journey’s growing up apart, yet harnessing abilities that are beyond comprehension. Albeit, Tell Me Why’s premiere episode has shown a promising experience right from the onset. With a superior plotline from DONTNOD’s last two outings, mechanical and graphical improvements made to its engine, and a captivating narrative that’s sure to implode on itself, Tell Me Why is a welcome return to form that had been needed for quite sometime. It delivers a sense of originality and charm that had been absent since the initial season of Life is Strange. Yes, it’s hard not to compare the two title’s but it truly feels like a calm before the storm, with its first chapter prefacing an impending series of devastating events, that I’m excited to experience.
⚠ Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Chapter Two: Family Secrets
Episode Two: Family Secrets Platforms: XBOX One & Windows Release Date: September 3, 2020 Playtime: 3 Hours
Beginning Chapter two, I was unsure how Tell Me Why’s narrative could possibly follow up after the climax delivered in its initial episode. Prefacing events foretold by both siblings, we were led to believe that their mother had been killed by Young Tyler. The twist in the end being that Young Alyson defended her younger sibling by unintentionally wounding her armed mother. A series of events that follow reveal more about the Mary-Ann’s untimely demise, and the actual cause. Suppressed memories that both Tyler and Aly try their best to eradicate, replay in realtime with both twins conflicted on whether their recollections of these horrific events were accurate accounts. Getting ready to sell of their childhood home, they pair begin to experience premonitions of the family mere moments before Mary-Ann pulled a shot gun on Young Tyler.
With many questions left unanswered, Tyler continues to seek closure on his upbringing and how his transition may have been unaccepted by not only his own mother, but the entire community of Delos Crossing. While deciding on interior decorating, and what the pair may keep for their respective living arrangements, they stumble upon a myriad of merry memories that may have given off clues to Mary-Ann’s relationship status, and how the family itself were struggling financially. It happened common knowledge that their mother was stealing to survive, and fend for her children all whilst the convenience store owner Tessa, was actually giving Mary-Ann handouts with leftover food and an assortment of snacks. While the pair continue to clean, handyman Sam Kansky arrives to help the twins out with some cleaning.
Left without power, Sam lets the twins know that the fusebox had blown out the night of their mother’s death, and had avoided fixing it. After some banter about Sam’s relationship with their mother, they manage to open the barn door where the fusebox had been placed. Aly manages to get both boys to stop bickering about the broken barn door, and get to work on reactivating the compound’s electricity. Illuminating the shed, the handyman walks through and survey’s the area, finding an empty gunrack that had presumably held the same shotgun used on that fateful night. Distraught and in disbelief, Sam leaves the twins to continue working on the compound. Following Sam outside of the shed, Tyler begins to see his younger self running towards the side of the house with his sister in tow.
It’s there that the siblings spy on their mother and Officer Eddy Brown engaging in what seemed to be a domestic situation. Tyler’s recollection reflects his mother becoming hostile towards Eddy, demanding he leave the property while throwing a picture frame at him. While events were muddled between the pair, there was one truth from each outcome and that was Eddy had lied to his adopted daughter, and had seen Mary-Ann on the day of her death, after claiming that he had not seen their mother for months. This left the Ronan’s suspicious of their father figure, leading them back to the precinct in hopes of interrogating the Police Chief. Upon their arrival to the station, the pair are confronted by Eddy and told to leave as he is busy with a case. Using their telepathic powers, the pair deviously devise a plan to infiltrate the station’s archives.
Doing their best to distract an entire precinct of on-duty police officers, Tyler powers off the lighting within the entire vicinity while Aly covertly sneaks up the stairwell to the second floor, unlocking the fire escape from the inside giving Tyler from the outside. The pair eventually break into the archives with Tyler rummaging through hoards of files and folders, investigating what may have happened that day with the Chief and their mother, while Aly stood guard on the outside. Eddy furious at their transgression, the pair are caught red handed with Tyler baring the brunt of the situation. The siblings confront Eddy about his deceitful recount, with the officer doing his best to evade any confrontation with his daughter, and her brother. It’s from this moment the story presents a fork in the road for those choosing to take their desired path.
So while the plot thickens the narrative itself stays somewhat complacent in Tell Me Why’s initial follow-up, it’s hard to gauge where the story is heading. While I can see this having a combustible closure, the twin’s second venture is somewhat cumbersome in maintaining its charm. As the story progresses, Tell Me Why’s imperative story structure is falling down the Life is Strange rabbit hole with another Veronica Mars inspired, investigative whodunnit? While I praise Life is Strange, and its inspiring creativity, Tell Me Why just falls shy to both its forbearing franchise and episodic precursor. Chapter two’s plot and pacing felt almost disregarded, and placed to wayside for more interactivity and investigative tactics in hopes of engrossing its fanbase with DONTNOD’s trademark point-and-click blueprint, while expanding on the twin’s supernatural abilities.
Sure there are fundamental moments that twist the plot so much, that it changes gameplay and progression within each unique set piece. Unexpected? Not really. Having played Life is Strange and Before the Storm, these subtle nuances are hallmark placements within DONTNOD’s creative process. While Tell Me Why’s second arc had aspired to amplify a copious amount of affection, anger, concern and sympathy, its omission of passion, pride, warmth and charm are dismissed for a darker turn in the twin’s recount. I can understand this somewhat, however I became a little disinterested after repetitive depictions portrayed our twins, as a tale of two whiny adolescents that weren’t getting their way. I still have a vested interest in the title’s finale as I’m drawn in by the narrative, but I can’t say chapter two had the same impact as its preceding episode.
Chapter Three: Inheritance
Episode Three: Inheritance Platforms: XBOX One & Windows Release Date: September 11, 2020 Playtime: 2 Hours
So here we are, everything that has transpired culminates and concludes in this climactic chapter. Tell Me Why’s final arc delves deeper into the personal lives of each twin, as they strive to find answers to questions that have been kept from the pair. Questions are raised on whether their mother had actually threatened her child, and what had actually happened on the night of her demise. While we’ve been keeping a linear narrative the entire journey, the final chapter’s twists and turns try to persuade you into believing anything that had been delivered thus far. The ultimate swerve in the classic whodunnit? is as old as time, and DONTNOD demonstrate this vigorously. Tell Me Why remains to be a tale told of two twins who defy prosperity for a brighter future, and hopes of forgetting their troubled past. Bargaining for more than what they had hoped, the twins search their home furthermore in hopes of finding any clues on who their biological father may be.
I’ll be a little less descriptive of certain events that unfold in this chapter, due to its length and how it deviates from Tell Me Why’s linear narrative in its previous entries. Aly’s string of night terrors continue, as she tries her best to quell and subdue memories of her past, only for it all to eventually catch up. While the twins had been able to control their supernatural gift, Aly’s guilt begins to override her senses with a flurry of visions that are manifesting within herself. These apparitions are not of memories, but are mental projections of loved ones, and is reflective of Aly’s current state of mind. With the twins preparing for their voyage to Juneau, they vie for total closure on their time in Delos Crossing. After their disagreement, they find themselves at a crossroad of how they want to remember their mother, Mary-Ann.
While Tyler remains cold towards his late mother, Aly begins to show signs of repressed guilt and expresses that their mother may have infact been trying to protect them from their biological father. In what will forever be arguable, the twins draw to a conclusion that they must find an absolute end to this ongoing trauma or it may haunt them forever. The difference from previous chapters to its concluding entry, is the choices that are made will shape the outcome of Tell Me Why’s entire story. While it may not be as enormous of a climax as DONTNOD’s initial point-and-click epic, it very well remains just as memorable. While Life is Strange confronted players with unimaginable and heartbreaking choices, Tell Me Why puts all sense of morality to the test. It once again falls right into a twisted ‘whodunnit?’, but in reverse.
Characters that subtlety antagonise our twins are scattered across this entire campaign in hopes of confusing the player from being able to simply spot them throughout this entire saga; but are they actually guilty of anything? That’s for you to decide. Your conscience will weigh heavily with each path taken throughout this climax. While Tell Me Why’s first two episodes lead you down the straight and narrow, its final entry refuses to hold your hand, rather giving the player freedom to shape the Ronan’s outcome with your respective judgement. This alone, is a narrative based feature that I’ve been craving since Life is Strange’s initial season. Albeit, shaping Tell Me Why’s finish is somewhat prophetic, giving players the power to solidify and forge the twin’s memory. But is it the twin’s own memory that you’re cementing? Or are you shaping your own belief of what occurred that night? Deep right?
In closing, I loved everything about Tell Me Why. There were moments throughout its campaign that I truly felt it was Life is Strange’s spiritual sequel; It certainly would have fit the mould of its predecessor. However with the studio separating its works, and only lifting nuances and aspects of what made its previous franchise successful, highlights how integral DONTNOD’s initial narrative-based framework is for the studio. Tell Me Why takes a minor detour from familiarity’s we’ve come to know within the developer’s history, demonstrating bountiful betterment’s in graphical design and gameplay loop that only leads to promise for stellar enhancements within the French studio’s creative process. Tell Me Why is an astounding addition to an amazing line-up of DONTNOD’s lofty library of occultic tales, and most definitely a must play in 2020.
Tell Me Why - DONTNOD Entertainment
Tell Me Why is a 2020 adventure game from Dontnod Entertainment and published by Xbox Game Studios. The game will release in three episodes across mid-2020 exclusively for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One.