After ten years apart, twins Tyler and Alyson reunite to sell their childhood home. They soon realize their past is not what they remember.
Publisher: Xbox Games Studios
Reviewed on: PC
Also available for: Xbox One
Cast: August Aiden Black, Erica Lindbeck, Grace Kaufman, Gianna Ernst, Emily O’Brien, Martin Sensmeiser, Forrest Goodluck, Neil Kaplan, Melody Butiu, Dave B. Mitchell
Game Director: Florent Guillaume
Narrative Director: Stephane Beauverger
Lead Writer: Morgan Lockhart
There’s undoubtedly a lot of Life is Strange in the DNA of Tell Me Why. The latest episodic narrative adventure from developer Dontnod deals with similar themes and features two young adults at the head of a personal narrative, with a little bit of supernatural twist thrown in.
In the first chapter — off three, releasing a week apart — we’re introduced to Tyler and Alyson Ronan, twins. The pair are returning to their childhood home to clear it out both physically and metaphorically before attempting to sell it off and move on with their lives. A house that holds a lot of dark memories.
When they were young Tyler, protecting himself, killed their mother in self-defence. However, due to the circumstances surrounding the case, it was deemed best to separate the twins. You learn quickly that the inconclusive evidence that night may have led to Police to point a heavy finger at Tyler. Possibly even blaming his temperament.
Since that night the twins have been separated roughly ten years and the game begins with them seeing one another for the first time. Alyson has grown-up in Delos Crossing after being adopted by the police officer who dealt with their case, and Tyler in a residential centre for troubled teens. Understandably, they have grown somewhat apart and had very different lives. Both, however, are looking to start something new and refreshing.
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Returning to Delos Crossing in Alaska, Tyler begins an understandably hard journey. He’s a transgender man returning to a liberal small town and attempting to sell off the local “murder house.”
In the lead-up to the release of this game, Dontnod made it a point to say that although they have a trans-person in their game, it wasn’t the focus of the story. And that’s, at least as far as chapter one, true to a point. There’s certainly some focus on Tylers’ identity in what I’d say is a somewhat believable way, but as a cisgender dude, I don’t have the right to really judge Tyler’s journey.
I’m putting this next part in a quick spoiler header, but it’s worth mentioning and Dontnod even has it on the Tell Me Why FAQ page. One part from the get-go of the game could be triggering for some, and it might help to go in with a certain question answer. See below
— SPOILERS —
Although Tyler believes at the start of the chapter, and thus leads the players to believe, that his mother was angry after reading his diary and cutting his hair, this is not the case. I’m still not sure what exactly is going on with Mary-Ann, their mother, but it’s obvious she has some mental health challenges. She was not attacking Tyler because of his hair, or any underlying problems with raising a transgender child.
— SPOILERS —
Quickly what Alyson and Tyler discover in their stale and musty home is that their memories may not all add up. I’m not talking normal memory confusion either. Alyson and Tyler have the ability to hear one another’s thoughts and talk to each other. Maybe a secret power all twins have, but Alyson and Tyler can also see images or misty fragments of memories play out in front of them. This helps them find the key to their house, but when it comes to remembering things about their mother, or that fateful night, there is some confusion.
This is the lead narrative for Tell Me Why. Solving the unanswered questions about the Ronan twins childhood and that night in which they were separated. In that regard this game deals a lot more with looking at the past than the Life is Strange game, which, even when involving time travel, looked forward.
Like Dontnod’s previous narrative based adventures, it’s obvious in the first episode you’ll get out as much as you put in. Exploring the Ronan household opens a wealth of new family knowledge and side stories. Seeking out the quieter moments brings more character depth. Although I gotta be honest and say that I miss the Life is Strange indie soundtrack moments where you can relax and listen to the music.
What’s working best in the first episode is the characters. Both Tyler and Alyson are written beautifully with their own secrets, quirks and personalities. They’re written so well that when the game asks you to side with one character, you’re picking based on who you believe could be too invested in a certain choice or having their own emotional conflicts weigh down the way they remember something. There’s no visual cue or otherwise to say which is a ‘bad’ or a ‘good’ choice. Decisions matter, I’m sure. But it’s all felt very natural so far and like all games like this, they lead to the same door eventually.