Tell Me Why | game review
Ain't nothin' but a heartache.
Game summary: In this intimate mystery, twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan use their special bond to unravel the memories of their loving but troubled childhood in beautiful small-town Alaska. (Xbox.com)
Having really enjoyed Life is Strange: True Colors, I was somewhat looking forward to trying out Tell Me Why, although not too eager thanks to seeing others describe it in what would charitably be described as a less than enthusiastic manner. As it turns out, that response was definitely being kind and I'm going to start this review by stating that I will never play this bloody game ever again.
To start with, there's something with narrative-led/driven games that I think a lot of gamers don't really understand that well, which is pacing. A single game could be seen as having poor or great pacing depending on the player - if one races through it, mastering the gameplay easily, then they may feel that things are rushed; someone who struggles with the game or is taking their time might think events unfolded too slowly; and then there's the 'Goldilocks' player who thinks the pacing was perfect because it matched their speed of progression.
In other words, talking about pacing in a game's story is a pointless endeavour most of the time because of the interactive nature of video games - in non-interactive fiction, the same events will always happen at the same point in time, which makes pacing far more critical. There are, however, exceptions and most often when a story is done poorly, which is a trap that Tell Me Why falls into.
This game was released as separate episodes and it feels like Dontnod made an issue I had with Life is Strange even worse, which is padding out each part with what felt like filler content. In Life is Strange, it would usually be a puzzle or, ugh, gathering bottles that felt like an added time-consuming activity to justify an episode existing, but here it really is a case of the story not having enough meat to it.
This results in pretty much every single scene dragging out far, far longer than they need to and forcing events to unfold at a snail's pace. There are clear moments that are meant to be shocking or emotionally-impactful that felt like complete non-events because I was so tuned out and just didn't care by the time those moments actually happened.
It doesn't help at all that both of the twins you control, switching between them at various points, are not particularly likeable people. August Aiden and Erica Lindbeck do their best with the material they're given, but can't do much to turn Tyler and Alyson respectively into characters that are genuinely enjoyable to spend time with. Couple that with a story that is more padding than anything else and Tell Me Why is pretty much a chore to get through despite its relatively short length.
When you chuck in a supporting cast of paper-thin, barely there supporting characters, including an optional romance for Tyler that doesn't feel written as optional at all (just to be clear: no issues with the romance existing, but it feels like it should've just been part of the story by default with how it's written), and there's not a great deal to view positively here. And I haven't even mentioned the puzzles that basically require you to read multiple short stories to solve... just use a walkthrough for these unless the game really clicks for you.
So why not a lower score? Well, Tell Me Why is generally a very pleasing game to look at and listen to, if nothing else - especially some of the landscape shots which honestly made me want to visit Alaska for that scenery. There are some moments that do work well too, despite my general boredom with the story for the most part - but they just make me wish the entire game could've been that good.
I really do think a dose of 'less is more' would've benefitted Tell Me Why immensely. There's just too much padding and too many scenes that drag on to justify splitting this out into three 'episodes' when trimming all the fat and putting out a shorter single game would've forced things to keep moving at a faster pace and not allow the player to lose interest like I did.
Tell Me Why isn't just a disappointment, with far too many flaws to overcome a story stretched out far further than it needed to be. I get that Dontnod like their episodic story-telling, but there's so much padding here that it would've been far easier and more enjoyable to cut half of what we get and have a single game that might actually have some pace and urgency added to proceedings as a result.