Taken as a whole experience, Tell Me Why offers a much-needed reshaping of the choose your own story games, moving away from cliffhangers and dramatic, distinct choices towards a more gentle and meaningful experience. The game features bouts of magic realism, but is most magic in its human moments. All the major choices shape your character's experience more than their actions, and while the first, introductory chapter occasionally feels shallow, later chapters are overflowing with depth.
Tyler Ronan, the first trans character leading a game for a major studio, is also the first truly well written trans character in gaming, and comes with no strings attached. He’s wonderful, so clearly shaped by his transness yet made of so much more than it.
Alyson plays her part too, especially in Chapter Three, although Tyler steals the shows and gets all the best scenes, including two moving conversations in Chapters Two and Three which push queer representation in major video games into new territory. The ending reveals feel raw and deserved, the puzzles are inventive and whimsical, and the miniseries style presentation highlights the hidden power of GamePass.
It's a masterpiece, if not of technique, then of soul, story and heart.
SCORE: 5 Stars
Watch our full review of the game in video form below.
Tell Me Why Review - Chapter Three: “I will be talking about Tell Me Why for a long time”
Because of the nature of the genre, of Tell Me Why’s subtlety, there's a risk that at the end of the year it will not be deemed good enough to sit at the top table with the bigger AAA offerings. But the game is a masterpiece, if not of technique, then of soul, story and heart. It fixes some of the biggest issues in its genre, even as I berated it in my first two reviews for not succumbing to them.
There is still not a serious blockbuster choice offered, but even if these are often the crowning moments of other point and click games, aren’t they often their biggest weakness? Other games of this ilk try to pare their stories down to a ‘choose A or B’, and often slice far too much nuance off in the meantime. Tell Me Why does end on a distinct choice, but the impact of this is felt on a character level, rather than a melodramatic story level. All the way through Tell Me Why, I’ve wanted there to be a huge, instantly impactful choice. Now that I’ve reached the end, I love that they didn’t give it to me.
Very few choices in Tell Me Why affect the story, they all affect the characters. Most games these days are missiles. Every inch of their engineering has been agonised over tirelessly, they’ve been meticulously designed in labs and in focus groups to hit their targets, and they explode with a deafening sound on impact. Tell Me Why is a songbird. It’s not as impressive, as fast, it doesn’t cause carnage and doesn’t demand attention. But it’s beautiful.
Chapter Three specifically belongs to Alyson, just as Chapter One was Tyler’s and Chapter Two was for Delos Crossing. She’s definitely been the supporting star so far, but benefits here from being given room to breathe and really comes into her own. Speaking of room to breathe, Chapter Three only has one weakness: there’s an anxiety coping minigame on Alyson’s phone which I didn’t understand, and instead of calming me down it made me want to throw her phone into the sea.
Every conversation Alyson has is deeply affecting, and the twins’ voice and memory vision, until this point just an intriguing mechanic, becomes both narratively and thematically interesting through her eyes. Tyler only really gets one scene, a lake fishing scene with Michael, but Tyler being Tyler, it steals the show.
You get a much gentler role in shaping Tyler’s sexuality and romantic interests than you typically do in other choice-based games, and that’s shown most effectively here. I could spend the whole review and then some talking about this scene; it’s relentlessly queer, unashamedly masculine, and both artistic and awkward all at once. It takes the same big steps Brokeback Mountain did, throws in the complexity of life as a trans man, and presents it to us with a glorious sunset. I get that other people may not love this game like I do. There’s no jaw-dropping, outrageously fun parts to Tell Me Why. But I know I’ll always be able to point to that scene and say “That. That’s why I love this game.”
Not everyone will get it. And that’s okay.
The game’s two final big reveals are both perfect, and focus less on trying to shock players than they do capturing the moment for Tyler and Alyson. Games like this often have puzzles or riddles thrown in there to make them feel more like a game; with the fuse box in Chapter Two, Tell Me Why falls victim to this itself. But the final set of puzzles, all folding into each other, are genius. From a basic point and click perspective, they’re colourful, fun, and inventive, but I guess they’re nothing too special. But it’s the way they fold into each other, revealing more about the game’s central mystery not just through the truths they uncover or the connections they make, but in the very way they are presented, which makes them magical.
I will be talking about Tell Me Why for a long time, although I’m not sure the world will. I don’t know if it will reach inside everyone’s ribcage and grip them by the heart the way it did me, or whether it will mostly be enjoyed as a pretty good game with a pretty good story. But I know for sure we’ll be talking about Tyler Ronan for a very long time. He’s deeply compelling, surprisingly complex, and he’s the first truly well written trans character in gaming who doesn’t need to have caveats attached.
Tell Me Why is best considered a miniseries, which is why, despite the reviews for Chapters One and Two being strictly about those chapters, this one takes a look at the game as a whole. I said in my first review it was the first game to understand the potential of Game Pass, and if these are the types of moving, more subtle stories we have to look forward to on the platform, I’d say that contrary to popular opinion, the future for Xbox looks very bright indeed.