STAFF REVIEW of Tell Me Why (Xbox One)


Wednesday, September 2, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Tell Me Why Box art Story and narrative is why I gravitate to specific games. Telltale really nailed this down with their The Walking Dead series, then seemingly out of nowhere a little studio named DONTNOD Entertainment brought us Life Is Strange, also a narrative driven series but with their own unique take and mechanics. Tell Me Why is the latest from DONTNOD, telling an intertwined story with many branches, revolving around twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan. Set in a small town in Alaska, Tell Me Why navigates some serious subject matter by bringing its characters to life in a believable and authentic way, and by the end, having you reflect on your own memories and beliefs.

Par the course for DONTNOD and similar games, Tell Me Why is releasing in three separate chapters. Normally we would review each chapter individually, but we were given access to all three right away and played from beginning to finish. This review covers the complete narrative across all three chapters, but will try to avoid as many major spoilers as possible, as these moments and revelations are really what makes Tell Me Why shine. Normally the wait between episodes in most series can take weeks or months, but thankfully DONTNOD is releasing them weekly. Chapter One is available now (and through Game Pass) with Chapter Two releasing September 3rd and the final chapter on September 10th.

Set in Delos Crossing, Alaska, twins Alyson and Tyler are finally being reunited after ten years apart as they return to their childhood home. A decade is a long time, so they must navigate learning how to interact with one another once again as they recall memories and discuss what life has been apart for each of them. Growing up together, they didn’t have an easy childhood, as their mother was apparently quite strict. In the opening chapter it seems as if they had very little fond memories of their mother, though this is to be expected, as the reason they’ve been apart for so long is because the situation surrounding their mother’s death. This is your fair warning for narrative SPOILERS ahead, as it’s hard to bring any context to the heaviness of the story without divulging some pertinent information;


For the last ten years, Tyler was sent away due to the fact that he killed his mother out of self-defense. Mary-Ann, their mother, was pointing a shotgun at Tyler when he showed her his new haircut, seemingly having lost her mind, though Tyler believes this is because she wasn’t supportive of him being transgender. The scene cuts to black and that’s what you currently remember.

As you and Alyson reminisce, they start to remember details about that life altering night, sometimes even doubting what they actually remember at times. Have you ever been in a situation with someone and when you discuss what happened or what was said, but you both have very different recollections of said event? There are situations like this that the twins will have to face, describing what each perceive as their own truth as you relive certain memories from different perspectives.

These flashback sequences are done in an interesting way, almost as a scene that plays out in front of the twins that only they can see simultaneously. As they reflect on their childhood, many emotions will come flooding out, such as Tyler seeing himself as a child before his transition, or Alyson when her best friend was her sibling. These flashbacks help piece together parts of the puzzle that led to the events of what actually happened that night with their mother. All is not as it seems though. In the opening Chapter, you really despise Mary-Ann for the way she treated the twins, but things aren’t that cut and dry sometimes. As you unravel plot twists and revelations, you may question what you initially judged about her, or not, it’s up to you to shape their story with new evidence and clues you uncover. With each chapter only taking a few hours to complete, its length was just perfect and the ending left me not only satisfied, but surprised.

While the main focus of Tell Me Why, and really all of DONTNOD's games, is the narrative, gameplay is very similar to Life Is Strange. You’re put into new scenes and areas you can walk around and explore, inspecting objects and finding collectibles, but the core gameplay will come from the dialogue choices and decisions you make. Given that Tyler and Alyson are twins, they share a unique bond that not only allows them to share their memories, but they also share a “voice”.

This is how the twins use a sort of telepathy to communicate with one another. This “voice” comes in handy when they are conversing with someone and want to figure out what their next best move is, but can’t openly talk for whatever reason. The choices you make, not only in dialogue, but in choosing specific memories, will play a role in the siblings’ relationship going forward as well. If the person you trusted more than anyone else in the world remembered the same situation drastically different, would you instantly believe them and cast doubt on your own memories? What if you were remembering a specific situation out of necessity to shield and protect yourself? This is some of the questions asked in Tell Me Why.


There are also some light puzzle elements within, though this aren’t done in a traditional sense, as they also tie into the narrative as well. You see, as kids, the twins wrote and illustrated stories they made up, even keeping a big book of all of them together. Have you ever read something very old you wrote and can read into it a bit deeper now that you’re older, wiser and have more experience? This is somewhat the same idea behind their fairy tales. These stories aren’t simply extra flair, but actually play an important role in the later chapters.

One puzzle for example is a unique lock on Mary-Ann’s bedroom door in your childhood house that has a bunch of unique symbols and icons. You’re clued into the fact that maybe they relate to one of your stories from your childhood fairy tales, though you aren’t directly told which story each puzzle is related to. These offer a change of pace to the gameplay, but can be quite challenging and frustrating, as you have to really pay attention to the stories and see which one relates to the puzzle at hand. For those that find this frustrating, there usually is an option to brute force your way past these puzzles, but it’s worth the time and effort to try and solve them.

When it was revealed that Tyler was transgender before release, this caught a lot of people’s attention. While some may take issues with this fact, I applaud DONTNOD for tackling the subject matter in a deliberate and very respectful way. Not only did the studio work with GLAAD to ensure an authentic representation, but even Tyler's voice actor, August Aiden Black, identifies as a trans male. Tyler’s birth name, or deadname, is actually never used to in the game as well in respect, only referring to himself as “Ollie” in the flashbacks, as he chose it because it sounded similar to Alyson’s nickname “Aly”. While Tyler being a trans man is part of the narrative, it’s not the sole focus and only a piece of the overall story. I have to admit, I’ve done a lot of research and asking questions after playing Tell Me Why about transitioning and people that have gone through it, as I wanted to learn more and be respectful, not only in this review, but in my personal life as well, so I’m glad playing has opened up dialogues for myself.


Just as informed and respectful the developers were in regards to Tyler’s character, they also took the same liberties with the cultural significance of being set in Alaska, as native Alaskan Tlingit also play an important role in Tell Me Why’s world. DONTNOD partnered with Huna Heritage Foundation to also portray all of the related elements to gameplay and setting to be respectful and authentic as well, not only ensuring proper Tlingit language pronunciations but artwork and more. Given that two prominent characters are Tlingit, this was an important component that they did so properly.

I don’t want to delve any further into many of the story elements and reveals that take place, but Chapter Two and Three are done just as well, if not better, than the opening episode. The final major reveal and decision actually quite surprised me, and while I guessed a few narrative elements early on, I struggled with my final choice, trying to weigh all my options before committing to my decision. While I will play through again in the future choosing differently next time, I was quite content with the ending I received and came away with a very memorable experience.

Visually similar in tone and style to Life Is Strange 2, Tell Me Why has that special DONTNOD flair to it. The Alaskan backdrop is an amazing sight to behold when given the chance, especially on the ferry ride to Delos Crossing early on, and the characters have smooth and realistic animations that had to have been motion captured, as they seem quite authentic and natural. The real star though is the performance that all of the voice actors portrayed for their characters, and not just Tyler and Alyson. The writing is done quite well and the performances are completely believable, bringing you right into their world, making you care about them even further. The ambiance too of the Alaskan wilderness doesn’t go unnoticed, and while there are some minor issues like clipping and the odd lip syncing, nothing really detracted from the overall experience.

While the overall experience is a handful of hours across the three episodes, it never wore out its welcome and felt like just the right length. There are some morally heavy decisions you have to make, and how you react to situations is actually quite telling on your own beliefs. I applaud DONTNOD for the careful and deliberate representation when it comes to Tyler, as it would have been too easy to write and develop his character full of tropes and stereotypes.

It’s abundantly obviously that Tell Me Why was made as a labor of love, and my time with Tyler and Alyson, while short, was very memorable. More importantly, it made me learn something new, ask questions and broadened my knowledge to other people’s plights that I’ve never had to personally experience. Not many other games have had the same lasting impact that Tell Me Why has.




Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10

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