(Reviewed on Xbox One by Games of DAYNE)
Twins divided by a childhood tragedy reunite for an emotional and heart-wrenching journey, changing everything they thought they knew.
From its intriguing opening moments through until its heart wrenching conclusion, the first chapter of Tell Me Why titled “Homecoming” proves once again that developer DONTNOD are experts in the field of interactive adventures that can pull the strings of every emotion of its players. An emotional story, check. An interesting take on the bond behind twins, check. This premiere chapter ticks the right boxes and by releasing the other 2 chapters this episodic adventure only one week apart, there’s just enough time in between to wrap our heads around what’s to come and based on this start, we’ll need it. Let me tell you why.
Twins Alyson and Tyler Ronan are at the forefront of Tell Me Why, with each character taking turns sharing the playable spotlight. Having been separated for over 10 years due to a traumatic family tragedy, the twins finally reunite to travel back to their childhood home in Alaska in preparation for its sale. When the twins were separated after the events of the tragedy, they were done so as sisters. In the decade that has passed, Tyler has transitioned to male. The twins carry such enormous emotional weight in this narrative and surprisingly it doesn’t collapse under its own pressure. The heavy material is a lot to take in and Tyler’s transition is instrumental to the motivations of the key characters involved, before and after.
The relationship of the twins and the lives they’ve lead since their separation paints the narrative with small but impactful strokes as they traverse the gorgeous Alaskan landscape on a ferry. Their bond is undeniable but it’s not until they make their homecoming that the literal and, luckily for players, playable manifestation of their bond changes the way these characters and the players experience their story. The bond shared between twins is amplified in Tell Me Why, with the two able to telepathically commune in what they call their “voice”, thought to be long lost since their childhood.
Referring to their mother as Mary Ann, the twins begrudgingly have to revisit the events that led to their separation a decade ago and her involvement serves as the catalyst for the shape their lives have since taken. To avoid spoilers there will be no specifics referenced here but it is worth noting she plays a significant part and has an emotional presence that is long lasting with the twins and likely the player.
With a hell of a premise and interesting take on the bond shared between twins, the gameplay itself feels familiar for fans of DONTNOD’s previous outings in Life is Strange. Alternating between Tyler and Alyson at predetermined intervals and walking around fairly explorable environments littered with items of interest to interact with comprise the bulk of the gameplay. These interactions offer anywhere in between a line of dialogue to a meaningful moment of self-reflection. Progressing the story is typically driven by interaction with a particular item that transitions seamlessly between gameplay and cinematics.
There are a handful of opportunities for the twins to trigger memories, significant emotional moments from their past that their bond allows for them to both witness. Their childhood selves and other characters are reanimated with a spectral, particle like effect that play out scenes from their past. Later in the chapter the introduction of which twins perspective is the “true” version of events allows for some interesting alternative scenarios which can be explored via replaying the story or chapter select.
The scenery on display is absolutely stunning and the ferry trip in particular is striking. The snow capped mountain backdrop breathes life and depth to the world DONTNOD are emotionally building. The character models themselves are impressive though the lip sync issues between the facial animations and dialogue persist throughout without relent and constantly distract. As with the Life is Strange series, an emotional score adds weight to the heavy themes of the narrative, powerfully moving the hardest hitting of sequences into more definitive moments of poignance.
The themes are unashamedly heavy and it’s difficult to see where Tyler’s transition may come into play in terms of prejudice or misunderstanding as these are only briefly touched upon in “Homecoming”. Explicit language is not uncommon either and the overall presentation is certainly mature to say the least.
Tell Me Why’s first chapter does an incredible job in establishing a connection to the characters though admittedly Alyson isn’t given the same depth as Tyler. This is ok. The events of the past are significantly focused on Tyler’s wrestle with his identity, a struggle that proves more difficult for those around him. This seems to be Tyler’s story and with what players get to experience in this 2-3 hour premiere, that is far from a bad thing. There is so much story to tell on the rest of the twins’ journey which will likely include room for Alyson to find her feet a little more. With only one week between each of the 3 chapters, it feels like a smart move to allow this breathing room as the complete experience, if “Homecoming” is anything to go by, has the potential to emotionally overwhelm with its raw power.
+ Stunning environmental detail
+ The Ronan twins are excellently fleshed out
+ Handling of Tyler’s identity
+ Gripping emotional story
– Gameplay fails to engage between the story
Games of DAYNE Rating
Developed by: DONTNOD
Published by: Xbox Game Studios
Release Date: August 27 2020
Platforms: Xbox One
Tell Me Why – Chapter One “Homecoming” is also available with Xbox Game Pass.
Chapter Two and Three will each release one week apart on September 3 and 10.