Tell Me Why: Chapter Two Review: High and Dry

Tell Me Why: Chapter Two Review: High and Dry

Dontnod's middle act struggles to keep the momentum.

Sometimes I pity the middle entry in a trilogy. The first entry has a predetermined role in establishing the world and characters of a story, while the final entry has the obvious objective of wrapping the entire thing up. The second entry in a trilogy, by comparison, often feels somewhat lackluster, existing to draw out unanswered questions from the debut while setting up the final act. Tell Me Why: Chapter 2 unfortunately falls into this role.

Tell Me Why's opening chapter had a lot of heavy lifting to do. It needed to establish two sympathetic characters in the wake of one of them murdering their own mother, building a simultaneously grounded world with some decidedly paranormal aspects to it. It actually succeeded in a lot of this, and I wrote just a week ago that it was a fairly promising start to Dontnod's new tale.

By comparison, Chapter 2 of Tell Me Why doesn't really build on this. It spends a lot of time going over everything that's happened so far, as the twins put the pieces of the central mystery together and get a little bit lost in the humdrum life of Juneau, Alaska. There's a whole lot of chatter with some of the minor supporting characters, without a whole lot in the way of consequence.

Chapter 2's use of the unique Bond ability—where the twins recall past memories as though playing out on a hologram in front of them—is emblematic of its problems. The opening episode used this ability in a delicate manner to provide context and background to the events happening in the present. Consequently, it was able to sell me on the use of the Bond as a necessary tool in providing information to the player, and one that was significantly more interesting than a simple flashback sequence.

On the other hand, Chapter 2 bombards you with the Bond right out the gate, using it more times in the first half hour than in the entire opening episode. There are so many instances of the Bond being used to inform the twins's current situation in back-to-back scenarios that it all feels a little forced. It really crosses the line from complementing the events of the present day to hand-holding the twins and guiding them through the episode like they're bystanders to their own story. There's even a scene where a Bond event automatically shows up to deliberately steer the twins down another path and dictate the events of the rest of the episode. It's all pretty clumsy.

That being said, the twins are still a pleasure to be around. Tyler and Alyson Ronan commandeer almost all of Chapter 2's best dialogue, especially in the opening scenes when they're very painfully navigating their deceased mother's possessions. Life is Strange's Chloe and Max always felt like a very awkward duo who were being scripted by two totally different writers, but Alyson and Tyler are firmly on the same page, bouncing dumb jokes and taunts off each other to ease the tension in some pretty uncomfortable territory.

Chapter 2 picks up very shortly after the opening episode's shocking ending. | Dontnod Entertainment/Xbox Game Studios

By contrast, Tell Me Why's supporting characters fall a little flat in Chapter 2. Two characters are promoted as potential antagonists for Tyler and Alyson based entirely on second-hand information, but the story does little to sell the anger Tyler feels toward them. Several other minor characters are introduced pretty rapidly before fading away into the background, and the characters outside of the twins in Chapter 2 are pretty forgettable.

The best episodic, choice-based games don't give you dialogue options that you immediately know the "correct" answer to. Nor do they let you instantly know when you've made a bad decision, playing the waiting game until your actions blow up in your face. Tell Me Why really fails at both these aspects, because of a tiny icon that appears near the top of the screen whenever you've made a decision. If you've made a decision that brings the twins closer together, the two stars will overlap and join into one, whereas if you make a decision which negatively impacts their relationship, the stars will move apart.

This system, while a neat, surface-level notification at first, really undoes a lot of the tension you feel after making certain decisions. It's almost like the game reaching through the TV and slapping you for making the incorrect decision before the characters themselves have even had time to react. In one scene, Alyson makes a decision without Tyler, and before I had even regrouped with Tyler to feel the ramifications of the decision, the little icon let me know that I'd really screwed over my twin brother, and that he'd really resent me for this. It robs the decisions of any emotional payoff or tension, because you know you're instantly going to be notified as to whether you've done the right or wrong thing.

There's a lot of busywork in Chapter 2, especially around the old Ronan house. | Dontnod Entertainment/Xbox Game Studios

Crucially, Tell Me Why does have a few quiet moments where the twins get to relax a little from their crusade for the truth. One of these is a pretty adorable scene where Tyler and another character pelt each other with plushes in a store, and it's nice to see Tyler just be allowed to exist for who he is. One of Tell Me Why's main strengths is that it doesn't force its characters through a gauntlet of pain and depression in order to validate their journey, and this strength is once again evident in Chapter 2.

Nevertheless, Tell Me Why: Chapter 2 fails to expand on the groundwork laid by the opening chapter. There are some nice character moments, and the writing for the twins is still interesting and energetic, but the notification system after choices really stunts the emotional payoff of any big decisions. It mainly exists to set up next week's finale, stunting the story's overall momentum.

After a solid debut chapter, Tell Me Why: Chapter 2 doesn't keep the momentum going. There are pleasant individual character moments between twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan, who remain the undisputed highpoints of the game, but the rest of the cast suffers as a result. Tell Me Why wants to paint an emotional tale of struggle and growth, but Chapter 2's experience is stunted by overuse of the Bond mechanic and the decision-based icon sapping any tension.

3/5

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Hirun Cryer

Staff Writer

Hirun Cryer is by far the most juvenile member of USgamer. He's so juvenile, that this is his first full-time job in the industry, unlike literally every other person featured on this page. He's written for The Guardian, Paste Magazine, and Kotaku, and he likes waking up when the sun rises and roaming the nearby woods with the bears and the wolves.

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