Welcome to someone's worst nightmare! You, as the viewer, are asked by actor John Hurt, playing the part of Dr. Turner, to help unravel the sometimes surreal, strange and bizarre behavior and mysteries that are occurring in the Overton's house. Something is horribly amiss in their lives and through exploration of every facet pertaining to the Overton's daily existence, you'll delve into the human psyche as the story unfolds.
Allison and Michael, the Overton's, have been through a traumatic experience, an accident that has driven Allison to withdraw -- an accident that has in some way affected their daughter Jody. You'll read intimate journals and diaries, snoop into personal computer files, hear relevant radio programs, watch pertinent television shows and listen to the characters as they reveal dark secrets to the new live-in nurse Kathryn Randolph.
The game, through a series of Thematic Apperception Tests (TAT), looks into your psyche as well. At various points throughout the story you'll take these tests, based on real psychological testing norms (Reality Checks), and become aware of your own profile, an analysis by Dr. Turner of your responses to specific questions as the story evolves. The game has multiple endings, alternate scenes and various paths that are triggered by this "personal" involvement.
Tender Loving Care, based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman, is an interactive movie in which you the player help determine the outcome and direction the story takes. Gameplay proceeds from a first-person perspective and at certain times the characters themselves will speak directly to you. Gameplay is the same for both the PC CD-ROM version as well as the PC DVD-ROM version.
Will you have what it takes to separate the lunatics from the sane? Can you ferret out the deepest secrets of the characters and will you be satisfied with your own profile as analyzed by Dr. Turner? Or will you run screaming into the night as the story (and perhaps more) begins to unravel? Tread lightly, the lunatics may have taken over the asylum after all!
Back in 1998, 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.
Dr. Turner, played impeccably by John Hurt, is a psychiatrist with a problem. 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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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