Tell Me Why is an episodic narrative adventure game with an engrossing, emotional story, a gorgeous Alaskan backdrop and some beautifully composed music. Developers DONTNOD Entertainment are previously known for developing the critically-acclaimed Life Is Strange series. With Tell Me Why, they have delivered an excellent story yet again. However, poor animations constantly distracted me from an otherwise great game. Here’s my Tell Me Why review.
Tell Me Why follows the story of two twins who are reuniting again after ten years apart. Alyson and Tyler Ronan experienced a traumatic event as children, which led to them being separated. Throughout the game, the player delves into this tragic night, investigating what happened and why.
At first, the dialogue seemed awkward. Every interaction between Tyler and Alyson felt weird. However, as the game progresses the dialogue starts to feel more natural, and by Chapter 2 I found myself fully immersed in their story. I’m not sure whether this awkwardness was intentional. They do mention that it may be awkward after 10 years apart. Therefore, it does make sense within the context of the story, but it makes those initial moments rather bland.
As I said, as the game progresses this gets better and before long the twins’ tale had me captivated. Usually games in this genre rely on a series of big decisions spread through each episode. Go play Telltale’s The Walking Dead series and you will find yourself constantly thrust into life-or-death moments with immediate repercussions. Tell Me Why strays away from this formula, instead offering more subtle choices. These choices impact Tyler and Alyson’s feelings towards their past, their relationships with the people around them, and ultimately their futures. This difference makes the story feel much more natural and realistic. The story does have big twists and turns which I won’t get into here. But generally, the decisions you make will be smaller, more nuanced choices which have unexpected repercussions.
Animations Miss the Mark
Unfortunately, Tell Me Why fails to deliver the animation quality needed to realistically convey what the characters are feeling. One particularly obvious example of this is the characters faces. Whether they are feeling anxious, happy or sad, their faces almost always seem lifeless. They are unable to convey any of the emotions that the writers are trying to express. This can be really distracting when a serious scene is unfolding, as Alyson and Tyler both often show no emotion through their faces. It’s really disappointing and can often be distracting in the serious scenes.
Lip-syncing is another casualty of the poor animations on show throughout Tell Me Why. The characters mouths never seem to move how they should, which makes the many close-up camera angles feel strange. From the start I could tell something felt strange, but when I realised that the lip-syncing doesn’t look natural it became hard to focus on anything else.
I know the two issues I’ve just mentioned seem small. They are insignificant in most games. Lip-syncing and facial animations are never perfect, yet here it’s the core of the game. These narrative adventures don’t have any particularly gripping gameplay features. People play them for the thrilling stories and characters. A large chunk of the game is interactive cutscenes in which you choose dialogue options, which inevitably leads to you staring at faces for a long time. So, when it’s all poorly animated, it can be really distracting and becomes a much bigger issue than it is in other games.
Once you look past the poor animation quality, you’ll see that the Alaskan backdrop is stunning. The snowy mountains, tall trees and frozen lakes are beautifully rendered. I stopped and stared at the gorgeous scenery more than once just to take it all in. Tell Me Why‘s fictional town of Delos Crossing is beautiful – it’s just a shame the animations didn’t receive the same level of polish.
The music of Tell Me Why is equally as beautiful as the Alaskan scenery. There are recurring themes that really convey what the characters are feeling, and it really makes you feel those same emotions. When the game presents you with a new mystery, the music gives you this uneasy feeling that things aren’t as they seem. If the twins are facing their traumatic past, the music will have you completely understanding how they feel in the moment. The score is excellent, and it really resonated with me as the player.
As you’d expect from the narrative adventure genre, a lot of Tell Me Why involves exploring your surroundings and interacting with various objects. I found lining the camera up with interactive objects to be difficult at times. These issues never last long, but they are rather common. For example, you’ll move the camera to look at a note you want to read. You’ll be looking right at it, but the game won’t always recognise this. It’s a tiny issue, but it happens frequently enough that it becomes frustrating.
The rest of the game is told through interactive cutscenes. These dialogue sequences usually have you pick from an array of things to say, but Tell Me Why changes up the formula ever so slightly. Tyler and Alyson share a unique bond with which they can talk to each other in their minds. In dialogue sequences, you’ll often be able to discuss what’s happening with your twin to decide how to move forward. The game uses the left and right triggers to distinguish between these two dialogue trees. Holding the left trigger presents you with what you can say verbally, whereas the right trigger gives you your telepathic options. It’s a tiny difference to the standard formula, but it works really well and gives Tyler and Alyson’s relationship that extra level of depth.
Tell Me Why Review Verdict
Tell Me Why tells a story that will hit very close to home for many players. It’s told beautifully, with mostly great writing and lots of subtle decisions to impact your version of the story. The surrounding scenery is gorgeous, as is the music composed for the game. These combine to convey the emotions felt by the characters perfectly. Poignant moments give you time to think and process what’s happening whilst you stare at the beautiful view of Alaska. The music resonated with me to help me feel immersed in the story. However, the poor animations are too distracting from what is an otherwise excellent game. The lip-syncing and facial expressions are really bad, and are constantly present to break your immersion. DONTNOD have delivered another well-written story though, and I’m certainly eager for more.
You can purchase Tell Me Why on the Xbox One here. Each episode is also available on Xbox Game Pass for Xbox and PC on launch. If you’ve not already, you can sign up for game pass here. The first episode is available now. Episode 2 will release on September 3rd 2020, and the final episode will release September 10th 2020.
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Note: Xbox provided a copy of ‘Tell Me Why’ to us for review.