Tender Loving Care

Review by Old Rooster
July 2006

"With Fresh Eyes and an Uncluttered View" –Dr. Turner

Back in the last century (1998, to be precise), a small group of very creative developers put their minds to the idea of an interactive motion picture. Of course, being located in Oregon, where dreary weather encourages indoor activity, may have helped not only with the game-making process itself but also with the generally dark theme of their product.

With The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour under their belts, the team set out to make what they hoped would be the first of several "extended-play, multi-path motion pictures" that would "represent a brand new genre of entertainment." They may not have met their goals commercially, but this surprising and quite wonderful production is very deserving of a prominent place in your gaming library. Even though it's dated by gaming standards and has a couple of flaws, Tender Loving Care is one of the most involving and entertaining "adventures" I've played in the last several years.

"Looks Can Be Deceiving" —Dr. Turner

Dr. Turner, played impeccably by John Hurt, is a psychiatrist with a problem (so what else is new?). He introduces us to a beautiful-looking home for sale—a home that "nobody is buying after what happened." Dr. Turner not only doesn't give us the "what" but also says he doesn't understand the "why" or even necessarily the "who" of the tragedy occurring in this nice suburban residence.

We, as the player and Turner's helper, bring a fresh set of eyes to the exploration and ultimate unraveling(s) of the mystery.

With the good doctor acting as narrator, helper, even evaluator, we are introduced to the cast of characters. Although two dozen are in the entire "film" and its variants, we primarily are interested in three: Allison Overton, the wife and mom, suffering unresolved acceptance of the sudden and tragic death of her five-year-old daughter; Michael Overton, the loving(?) spouse, trying to find a way to comfort his wife; and Kathryn Randolph, a beautiful psychiatric nurse hired to help ease the pain (but whose pain, we might ask?).

TLC moves through several acts, 16 scenes, and five different endings! Full-motion video (FMV) is employed with a fine and professional cast of characters. After posing the initial dilemma—husband comforting bereaved wife and employing a nurse helper—Dr. Turner suggests a series of questions, some of them a bit strange and certainly personal, which actually help shape the direction of the story. This is done seamlessly, with FMV conversations actually changing along the way depending on your path(s). Here are just a few examples of Turner's questions, basically with "yes," "no," and "sometimes" or "maybe" as responses:

  • At least once in my life I've felt as if I'm living in an alternate reality;
  • Do you feel compelled to know the intimate details of Allison, Michael and Kathryn's lives?
  • Four-foot-long penises are: Funny, Offensive, Too Big, or Just My Size;
  • If you stare at your face in the mirror long enough you will see the devil;
  • Do you like to look in people's windows at night?

As is apparent, this is not a full-family game, with paths moving from PG-13 to R or Mature. There are adult situations, sexuality (including nudity) and some violence. From the questions as they evolved, you can tell the first path this player trod!

"That Was Illuminating. Let's Do This Again a Little Later" —Dr. Turner

As any good psychologist or psychiatrist should, the doctor does like his evaluation tools! Indeed, he even probes us along the way with a variant of the Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT. This brought back fond memories from my early days in the profession. Here, we typically have paintings on the wall, with some ambiguity as to meaning, that you are encouraged to interpret, using such questions as:

  • The woman in the hall is a call girl, usher or opera buff? (a pensive woman in a theater);
  • A woman who wears a red dress is mostly likely a prostitute (that same woman);
  • I enjoy the smell of gasoline on my fingers;
  • Is this man married? (referencing a lonely looking, elderly gas station attendant).

As we move through the eleven room home and its hallways, we also find diaries to be read, phone messages and e-mail to collect and examine, even radio and TV shows to check out. When Allison comments in her diary, "Poor Michael wants to touch me, but I can't let him," we add one more note to our attempted understanding of these complex individuals in an even more complex situation.

Interestingly, along the way, and at the end of the game, Dr. Turner will offer his observations of you, the player, as well as a final personality analysis upon completion of your task. Of course, this is the same guy who couldn't figure out things himself, so how seriously can you take him?

"I Like Big Keys in Old-Fashioned Keyholes" —Dr. Turner

Well, in accordance with Dr. Turner's preference, the keys and keyholes (i.e., hotspots) are certainly big and readily evident, especially from an experienced adventure game player's point of view. After answering questions following a scene completion, you are given the freedom to explore the house, read diaries, etc., until you come upon another painting of interest. The good doctor aids in this along the way with such comments as, "In the upstairs hall, look for the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks." From movement arrows on the screen edges to magnifying glass to the selection arrow, the interface couldn't be simpler.

I played the CD version, and I suspect the also-offered DVD was the primary intent of the developers. However, even with XP, I was able to set up and run the game smoothly using Windows 95 compatibility mode. Only one game save slot is offered, and that comes at the point of your temporary departure from the story. You return to exactly that point and are unable to go back. However, four player "profiles" allow you to play up to four different variations of the game simultaneously if you choose.

"An Interactive Motion Picture Adventure" —Developer Description

I think the developers met this description and goal, especially given the technology of 1998. Tender Loving Care is a superb story, beautifully acted, with smoothly integrated path variations available to the player. There are some glitches to be sure, such as the one save slot per player, the relative shortness (about five hours) of a single play-through, the graphics outside of the FMV itself, and the whole FMV approach to the game, which some may find limiting. However, these are much more than compensated for by the story and unique approach to looking at game character motives and desires—even player motives and desires, we might add!

Some may think, with the huge and wide worlds presented to us with today's games (e.g., Oblivion), that eleven rooms in a house is quite confining, even a bit claustrophobic. But with TLC, we are not looking at land and buildings; rather, we are exploring the depths, desires and depravities of the human mind and spirit. And that can be the most challenging mystery imaginable, even in eleven rooms!

What I Liked Most About TLC

  • The basic storyline, based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman;
  • The seamless variations on the storyline, with five different endings;
  • Fine acting, especially from John Hurt, narrator and friendly psychiatrist;
  • The ease of navigation in the game;
  • The novel TAT and player analysis approach;
  • TLC is not nearly as linear and straightforward as you think it's going to be;
  • It runs in Windows XP.

What Disappointed Me a Bit

  • Only one save game slot per player;
  • One play-through is only about five hours;
  • We haven't seen a lot more of this quality of "interactive motion picture!" The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Aftermath Media
Publisher: Digital Leisure
Release Date: April 1998

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium 60
Windows 95
Local bus video card with 1 MB of RAM capable of displaying thousands of colors and supporting DirectX 2.0
Double-speed CD-ROM drive
100% Sound Blaster compatible audio card
Internet connection recommended
Good speakers recommended

Where to Find It

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.