Review

Tell me why the exam – Too many unanswered answers

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Developer Dontnod doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult topics, even if it means some missteps along the way. On the one hand, it is admirable; the studio has helped advance the medium in the stories it can tell, exploring difficult topics like mental health and racism. On the other hand, this is new territory, and there is still a lot to learn. Tell Me Why presents this dilemma; Tyler breaks new ground as a transgender protagonist, but Dontnod also delves into topics such as grief, panic disorder, and the importance of therapy. For all these steps forward, this game always stumbles with representations and plot holes. Tell Me Why focuses on twins Tyler and Alyson, who are reunited after being apart for a decade. Although they are happy to be reunited, the occasion strikes a dark note as they must prepare to sell their late mother’s house – which also means facing the tragic event that caused her demise and separated them all those years ago. Tyler and Alyson’s bond is powerful and heartfelt, and I enjoyed every scene between them, whether it was jokes or confronting their difficult past. Dontnod does a great job of bringing back memories that show how special their relationship is because they have only just grown. While Tyler and Alyson’s exchanges are what makes the experience, the same can’t be said for the overall story. There’s a lot of suspense and tension when trying to figure out what really happened with their mother, but the three-part Tell Me Why arc moves at an over-accelerated pace. Relationships feel rushed, especially when it comes to romance and forgiveness. None of this is more evident than when trying to find out what kind of person the mother of the twins really was. She ends up feeling more like a conspiracy than a person due to unexplained details, and even at the end of it, you never really get satisfying answers. I won’t spoil anything, but his story is full of plot holes, especially in terms of mental well-being, and it’s a shame Dontnod didn’t handle that aspect better given his sensitive nature. That being said, the writers do a much better job with Tyler; the story says he is transgender, but that’s not the point. The story strikes a good balance between recognizing that part of him but not letting it overshadow it or defining the journey of facing his mother’s death. The Road to Acceptance takes you to explore Tyler and Alyson’s small hometown of Alaska and make choices as they recall memories of their past. Dontnod takes the twins’ intense connection one step further by giving them a special ability to hear each other’s thoughts and see their memories of the past together. In many ways, you chase their memories as they surface, which sometimes leads to finding a needed item or a new clue. I liked this aspect because it shows how two people can remember the same event differently, and it fits well with the general theme of thinking about how the past has shaped you as a person. However, there is a part of Alyson and Tyler’s special ability that didn’t work for me. At certain points in the story, the twins remember events a little differently, for example if a character seemed angry or sad during a heated exchange. You then choose which memory you want to believe in. It feels like you’re forced to invalidate how the other character is feeling, or just choose the version you want to believe rather than find the truth. It’s not about accepting events, and I found the Mechanic more frustrating than helpful, as if he was unnecessarily pitting characters against each other. Tell Me Why’s choices feel more subtle and less impactful to me compared to Dontnod’s earlier work, and I felt like I didn’t have as much agency over the story or the events. Your decisions are factored into Alyson and Tyler’s relationship and how they choose to live their lives, but the differences are minor. When you don’t make a dialogue choice, you come across some minor puzzles and mini-games, which are also very hit and miss. I loved ice fishing and solving puzzles, but examining graves for a person or searching for archives by remembering file names is more tedious than fun. A cleverly implemented mechanic helps Alyson get on track during a panic attack by watching an app you press to regulate her breathing. Tell Me Why doesn’t exactly answer the question it asks in its title, and maybe that’s the point. Even so, I came back with mixed feelings at the end. I really enjoyed knowing Tyler and Alyson, and felt the suspense and intrigue of uncovering this greater mystery, but it also disappointed me. This was only further illustrated in the choice of the ending, which is absolutely horrible in terms of the presentation and rationalization of the characters in the scenes that follow. It doesn’t end on a loud note, and what’s in between is full of ups and downs. The highs are worth playing, but just expect to shake your head when those low points hit.

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