Story-driven video games have always been some of my favorite, regardless of the format they are presented in. They often tackle subjects that other games simply do not have the capacity to do so, given their more complex approach to storytelling and such. So of course I was interested in Tell Me Why, even if I have yet to play the studio’s past works.
Compelling mystery. What really drives the experience in this game is its writing and, more specifically, the mystery surrounding the death of the mother to twins Tyler and Alyson. The game begins with them reuniting at their childhood home and they slowly realize that their past is not exactly as they remembered it. You as the player get to experience the story through both of them, controlling one or the other depending on the story scene.
This allows for a really cool dual narrative of sorts, allowing you to get a firsthand look at their thoughts individually and how they bounce off of each other as the story goes on. Oftentimes you’ll run into memories that the two remember differently, and it’s up to you to decide which to go with. This makes for a very compelling mystery, one that is only furthered by the game’s excellent pacing. In fact, it does the pacing so well that I hardly noticed the time passing while playing, it’s one of the few story-based games this year to really immerse me like that.
Interesting and realistic characters. A lot of games that tend to go the “interactive story” route usually suffer by way of flat character writing. That is why I was so impressed with how Tell Me Why handled its character writing. Not only do you have this diverse cast of interesting characters, but they’re written in such a way that they actually feel human. From the little quirks in their personalities to the raw emotion that they can show during certain story scenes, you really get to know these characters and get invested in the story through them.
Tyler, the transgender man through which half of the story is told, ended up being my favorite of the bunch. He has some very understandable motivations and feelings for his age, but some very human problems. He oftentimes lets his anger get the better of him and it shows in how he remembers the past. That’s something I had to keep in mind when comparing his memories with his sister Alyson (and is part of the reason why the mystery element works so well). And don’t let the fact that he is a trans character fool you, he wasn’t written solely for that reason and the writers did an excellent job incorporating that element into the story without it feeling forced.
This excellent character writing didn’t just stop at the main two though, a lot of the side characters are given the same treatment. Granted, not all of them are, but I had a good time getting to know each of them and figuring out how they fit into the story. I haven’t played the studio’s previous games, but if this is the kind of quality I can expect from the characters, I definitely gotta give them a look.
Looks great and runs well. Now, I’m not gonna make the argument that this game is pushing any graphical boundaries, but I gotta give the devs some credit here. They’ve managed to perfectly capture what one would expect from a small Alaskan town and did so with utmost detail. Granted, I haven’t been to Alaska, but if it looks as nice as the devs made it look here, I definitely have to visit someday.
Wide, open sets with foliage everywhere, mountains in the backdrop, cool weather effects and tons of detail like little figures hidden away and more obvious stuff like flyers, notes, and pictures. There is just a lot that brings the game world to life and they really did a good job with the environmental storytelling. You can easily clear the game without exploring, but there’s a lot of little story tidbits you can pick up from the various objects scattered about.
And of course, the game runs well while doing all of this. I had no issues running it at 1440p and unlimited fps, hovering around 140 or so on my 1070 Ti. The controls on both controller and keyboard and mouse felt fine and the latter are configurable as well, although I had no issues with the default layout. Really, it’s just well-optimized game all around, something that is unfortunately hard to come by these days.
Occasionally unnatural conversations. Tell Me Why has a bit of an issue when it comes to how dialogue flows between characters. Half of the time, it works fine and there’s nothing to complain about, but the other half it’s like characters are robots and talking in a way that is just so unnatural that it risks taking you out of the experience. For example, you’ll have a conversation between two characters in which there is absolutely no pause between their respective lines, leading to the entire thing feeling scripted.
What makes it worse is that some of these lines will be jokes or answers to questions that you would think would require at least a little thought, but nope, the characters just spit them out like that. Maybe I forgot how to socialize with the recent lockdowns and such, but I don’t remember human conversation working quite like that.
Underwhelming ending. For everything the game does right with its overall mystery and character writing, I was a bit disappointed with the last like hour or so. Without spoiling, let’s just say that the leadup and major reveal felt a little bit forced. You have this entire story and a bunch of developments to lead up to this reveal, and then once you get it, it felt like the story was searching for an easy way out and picked the most boring way to wrap it all up.
It’s not necessarily a pacing issue, although the pace does pick up quite a bit towards the end, but rather that it just doesn’t match the impact that the rest of the story had – a scar on an otherwise excellent game.
Tell Me Why is yet another example of proper storytelling in video game form. It boasts a compelling mystery, a cast of interesting and realistic characters, and also looks great on top of that while running well on modern hardware. As someone that plays a ton of story-driven games, I can definitely say it’s worth a look, even if the ending may have been unsatisfying.
You can buy Tell Me Why on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.