Chapter 2: Family Secrets
Chapter 3: Inheritance
Developer & Publisher: DONTNOD Entertainment
Released: August 27, 2020
Requirements: OS, Windows 7 64-bit or higher
Processor: Minimum, Intel Core i3 4130 or AMD FX 4300; Recommended, Intel
Core i5 4570 or AMD Ryzen 3 1300X
Memory: Minimum, 4 GB RAM; Recommended, 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Minimum, Nvidia GTX 750Ti, Nvidia GTX 1050 or AMD Radeon
R7 260X, AMD Radeon RX 560; Recommended, Nvidei GeFOrce GTX 970,
Nvidia GeForece GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon R9 290X, AMD Radeon RX 480
DirectX: Minimum, DirectX 11; Recommended, DirectX 12
Storage: 25 GB available space
Tell Me Why – Chapter 1: Homecoming
The latest narrative adventure from the people responsible for the Life Is Strange franchise, Tell Me Why’s first chapter sets the table (rather satisfyingly it seems) for things to come.
It starts with a flashback, and then reunites twins Tyler and Alyson, separated for the last decade as a result of that flashback. They are returning to their home town of Delos Crossing in Alaska to draw some lines under some personal stuff. It fairly quickly promises to be far more than might have been anticipated, as personal truths and memories are exposed and explored.
An immediate point of difference with any game I have played is that Tyler is an openly transgender man. Both the Steam page and a statement at the start of the game says that the makers conducted on-the-ground research and partnered with a range of entities including cultural, mental health and gender advocates in order to craft to craft a thoughtful true-to-life experience. I wouldn’t dare to presume how authentically the various issues are presented, especially those with respect to gender and sexual identity, but there is a lot more information at the maker’s website articulating their approach to the those issues, and what I would say is they have clearly put a lot of effort into how they went about that.
While there are some ignorant comments from people who haven’t met him since his transition, Tyler is who he is, an element this chapter allows him largely to just be. His identity isn’t ignored or irrelevant, but re-establishing his relationship with his sister, and confronting together the bits and pieces of their shared past, is the impetus for moving on. They rediscover their ‘voice,’ enabling them to share their thoughts, and also uncover an ability to view past memories in the real world, an aspect which provides insights into what has gone before.
There are memories which each character remembers differently, accentuating a notion that the reality of past events is to some degree determined by your own recollection. You might have to make a decision about which of the two recollections to accept, which is part of the overall game dynamic that the choices you make directly affect how the story plays out.
Another relevant aspect is the presence and depiction of the indigenous Tlingit culture. A key part of the story and scenery, the goal was to “portray these elements respectfully and responsibly.” The partnership with an indigenous foundation “informed many other aspects of the game, including atmospheric sounds, Tlingit-language pronunciation and spelling verification, and information on customs such as funerary rites. We also commissioned Huna Tlingit artisans to create the many Tlingit objects, murals and designs that appear in the game.”
There is emotional trauma as well as family violence, a factor in the pre-game statement referred to earlier. I haven’t found those elements distressing, but again I wouldn’t want to presume how it might affect any individual player. Be aware of the warning and proceed accordingly.
The game plays with a combination of the mouse and keyboard, the latter being the dominant input. I did find it a bit fiddly at times, the more so because some of the ways the interface worked you have to manage on the fly, but it isn’t a big impediment. You do get some on screen instructions, so just fiddle and you should be fine. It may of course have been more about me.
You will learn how to recognise that there is a memory that can be triggered, as well as how to zero in on it. You need to be in the right place in the real world to ‘see’ it, and I found this aspect a bit fiddly as well. Again it might have been more about me.
The WASD keys move you around, and as you explore, small circles will appear on items that can be further investigated. Often you just look, reading a bunch of stuff and/or starting a bit of introspection with Tyler or Alyson. but you will also gather inventory items, and these will be utilised where needed if you have them in your possession so there is no inventory management involved. You can also find collectibles, items which as far as I can tell play no part in the game other than to add a reason to explore thoroughly.
A couple of puzzles in this chapter involved interpreting and then applying information, and I am aware that there was a quite involved puzzle that was completely optional. There are also memories that you don’t have to find, but each will add to the tapestry of the narrative, as will exploring as fulsomely as possible. Your immediate objective can be seen at the pause menu, but you will miss a lot if you just make that your goal.
DONTNOD does this stuff well, and it looks and sounds good, the voice acting standing out. It autosaves at various points, and will take about three hours. I understand there are two more chapters, and will come back and give you a cohesive impression when I have played the others.
Chapter 2: Family Secrets & Chapter 3: Inheritance
Just under 9 hours all up and here we are at the end, in an epilogue in which you play one of the twins depending on some choices you made. It also features a variety of different details depending on other choices you made throughout the game (different photos for instance,) indicative of the state of certain relationships.
While there is puzzling to be done, you can actually avoid a chunk of it, even ignoring it altogether if pushing through with the narrative is your main goal. I do think though that some of the detail in the puzzles as well as the things you can find if you rummage, rather than focusing on the next objective, accentuated some of the narrative threads. Those threads also added both breadth and depth, and helped to ground the twin’s endeavours in a much richer and multi-layered world.
With respect to the narrative, I thought it stayed strong throughout, a tad preachy perhaps here and there but worth the effort. It has the capacity to surprise, and while you spend a fair bit of time watching cutscenes, punctuated here and there by a click or two, I liked its pacing. It encouraged a less busy interaction, in keeping with the introspection and reflection of Tyler and Alyson’s digging.
If you do hurry you might close some elements to further scrutiny. The collectibles are perhaps the most obvious example; if you haven’t found one when the cut scene triggers and moves you onwards, there is no way back to go back and look again other than restarting from an earlier chapter. I similarly got ‘ejected’ from one location before I had completed one of the puzzles, which didn’t matter in terms of finishing the tale, but if you like to do everything, take a cautious approach to completing the current objective.
Which you can find in the menu, just by pressing the Esc key. Press again to return. TAB is the other useful key, bringing up the Book of Goblins, a compendium of homemade fairy tales and which fuelled the twins early childhood adventures. It’s a neat item in its own right, but it also contains clues to a number of the conundrums you encounter.
As is often the case with these types of products, I did want a bit more to do at times, and some of what there is just seemed to be there for that purpose (the fishing might be an example). Having said that, there is a lot to like in Tell Me Why, and while I will take a break from games like this for a while, I will readily go round with the next DONTNOD experience.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB