Quantic Dream, Telltale Games, Supermassive Games. When it comes to interactive adventures, there are many developers who have used the video game to tell their stories, and just as many are those who have left a mark in the hearts of fans. And who of all deserves the adjective "memorable" if not Life is Strange, Max and Chloe's exciting and surreal journey that has gained tremendous popularity. Thanks to this work, which by now it is impossible not to have heard of it at least once, DONTNOD Entertainment has become synonymous with excellent narrative, certainly not flawless but certainly able to conquer the vast audience of lovers of the genre. The wave of success more or less continued with Life is Strange: Before the Storm and then ran aground with Life is Strange 2, an ambitious story without however reaching the strength or emotion that the first chapter transmitted. Now, DONTNOD is back in charge with a new story: Tell Me Why, the story of two brothers who have to deal with a painful and dark past. The work focuses on very current and profound themes, such as family problems, personal bonds and gender identity - the latter closely linked to one of the protagonists, a transgender named Tyler. A short title, carefully curated and dedicated to topics that have not found much representation in video games so far. Will it be a worthy successor to the development house's first masterpiece? Let's find out.
Inside and outside the memories
Being a title based purely on storytelling, a moving and intriguing storyline needs to be at the center of the construction. In Tell Me Why we follow the twins Alyson and Tyler who, after meeting for the first time in ten years, return to their native Alaska to sell their homes and move to the city. This trip involves though having to relive painful memories, linked to their past and the terrible events that led to their separation. And that's how the quiet and familiar Delos Crossing turns into a place full of secrets and lies, which prevent the protagonist couple from reaching the truth. To help them, however, their deep bond intervenes, which in pure DONTNOD style manifests itself in the form of supernatural power: the Voice, a capacity that allows you to exchange thoughts and emotions without speaking, and relive their memories as if they were tangible visions. Despite this last element - a distinctive trait that unites all the developer's works - we are faced with a decidedly more likely story than the others, which keeps our feet firmly on the ground and keeps our attention on the most important elements: the characters, the themes, emotions and various facets of small town life. A certainly commendable decision, which removes many of the criticisms received by Life is Strange 2 and brings back the talent of the authors in the representation of feelings. In all of this, however, we are by no means faced with a sad or even dramatic story.
As accurately explained by DONTNOD Entertainment, Tell Me Why is meant to be a story of hope and closing accounts with the past. The developer has made sure not to fall into bad stereotypes and not to give the wrong thickness to the protagonists and events. The greatest fear, dealing with such delicate topics, was in fact that of leading to banality or transforming realism into a nursery rhyme to avoid offending the public. With a great sigh of relief, none of these worries found a place in the game. Each element enjoys a naturalness and authenticity that reflect reality very well: the reactions of the characters are credible and plausible, the right priority is given to the themes when they arise and everything follows a well-studied logical thread, which gives life and emotion to the story. A big leap in quality compared to the latest works, with the strength to generate empathy through a few gestures and a handful of words, and that does not feel the need to resort to proven formulas or cinematic clichés to achieve its purpose. Above all, the LGBTQ + argument benefits, especially the representation of his T. Tyler's transition is treated with the utmost respect and is considered by both the authors and the characters as a mere nuance of his person, not as his only distinctive trait - common mistake and strongly criticized in other works. At first, acquaintances and family members struggle to get used to change but soon come to accept it and not even mention it anymore. Tyler is simply Tyler, a man born in the wrong body and now finally at ease, neither superior nor inferior to anyone else. A positive representation and far from being a banal social criticism, which makes you appreciate the courage and determination of the protagonist even more.
In this regard, the Voice has been properly inserted to naturally bond with everything else. While it is effectively a supernatural ability, the way it is exploited by Alyson and Tyler and the benefits they gain remain secondary pieces of a puzzle dominated by realism. This power does not solve problems nor does it create them: it limits itself to intervene to allow the protagonists to discover new clues about the mysteries of their childhood, while allowing the viewer to live their roots by watching animated sequences and not listening to explanations. While thus keeping its signature in the narrative, DONTNOD creates the perfect tool to make the story original and interesting but allowing the brothers to act and overcome obstacles through humanity and dialogue. The similarity with Max is therefore strong, but on an even more plausible and in some ways pleasant level.
More care, fewer choices
Now that I've dwelt enough on the plot and themes, let's talk about gameplay. As previously mentioned, almost all of the attention of the title is placed on its narrative, but we must not forget another of its fundamental aspects: the intervention of the player through multiple choices. Here too, in fact, we can make different and free decisions to change the course of events and change the ending. Compared to the past, Tell Me Why crossroads have a sweet and salty flavor. DONTNOD has in fact decided to put the user intervention “in the background”, through less marked choices whose consequences have a less immediate and evident impact compared to other works of the same genre. On the one hand, this design strategy holds up and does not detract from the rest of the game: we therefore sacrifice a bit of freedom for a more coherent, plausible and in any case manipulable story through our actions. On the other hand, the student spirit of exploring the various paths is lacking. Several times, in fact, even decisions that appear to be important bring with them minimal consequences, sometimes differentiating themselves for a simple line of dialogue. Those who love more realistic stories will probably be happy with this, but lovers of the gameplay side of interactive adventures could easily be disappointed.
As for the third pillar of Tell Me Why, the time has come to discuss the artistic sector, in which stands out all the care and love of DONTNOD for detail and immersion. With fewer places available and a shorter length of history, every corner of Delos Crossing is full of life and little gems that make up a delightful picture. From the light that reflects on the surfaces to the different brands of potato chips on the shelves of Tom Vecchi's shop, your eyes will often be delighted by the aesthetics of the game (especially if you love the beauty of snow-capped mountains and remote villages). On the sonic side, the music is spot on and delicately accompanies the emotions and actions of the characters, while the sound effects would need more attention. Inaccuracies and lack of synchronicity are not rare to encounter and, if you notice, they partially spoil the immersion that everything else has been so busy creating. It is known that some issues have been fixed and will be fixed with an update at launch, so I don't think I should judge the work too heavily for that. As for frame drops or rendering glitches, it appears that the Xbox version of the title suffers a bit more than the PC version, but even here you have to hone in the hands of the development team.
Tell Me Why turns out to be a big step forward for DONTNOD Entertainment: a brave and well-curated work, which goes beyond the limits of previous adventures and leaves room for themes that often find no home anywhere else. A work not without defects and with an overall short duration, which would certainly have benefited a few more hours, but at the same time the most successful on a human level by the developer. Where there is less substance we find more attention to detail, more depth in the characters and an eye towards delicate topics, narrated here in their full positivity and devoid of any stereotype of bad taste. If you are part of the niche of lovers of the genre, give Tell Me Why a chance. If, on the other hand, you have not loved Life is Strange or works of a similar structure, it is likely that even this will not be able to change your mind. Today is available on first chapter, while the other two will arrive on September 3 and 10, respectively - also on Xbox Game Pass.