Watch what you wish for.
It has all the workings of a David Cronenberg movie: car wrecks, psychological drama, and wild naked sex. Oh yeah, and it’s a game you can play on your TV and DVD player.
I grew up in the era of Pac-Mac and Nintendo, so it’s only natural that I love playing computer and video games. I’m partial to first-person shooters (like Quake 3) or role-playing games (like Fallout), but I do some puzzle/adventure games. Tender Loving Care falls into the latter category.
Tender Loving Care is an interactive movie; just how interactive I’m not sure. You see, I played through about four episodes and “saved” my game. A few days later I sat down to play some more. I went through another four episodes, but forgot to get my session code used to save the game. I replayed the episodes, and I’m sure I answered some of the questions differently, but the outcome was exactly the same. Hrm.
Tender Loving Care is based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman, who also wrote The Devil’s Advocate. It begins with Dr. Turner (John Hurt — Alien, Contact) introducing us to the house where we will be spending most of our time in the game. The house recently belonged to the Overtons, and Dr. Turner intones that something horrible happened. Soon, we are introduced to Michael Overton (Michael Esposito) and his wife Allison (Marie Caldare). Allison is mentally not quite there. Their daughter, Jodie, died six months ago in a car accident, and Allison cannot come to grips with her death — she still thinks the girl is alive but bedridden. Their psychologist, Dr. Turner, recommends that they bring in a nurse to take care of Allison. Enter Kathryn Randolph (Beth Tegarden). Something’s not quite right with her either. Allison takes to her right away, but Kathryn is cold and aloof with Michael (yet undresses in front of her window so he can watch). Kathryn is able to pull Allison out of her shell, but she perpetuates Allison’s fantasy that Jodie is still alive — she forces Michael to put a television in the dead girl’s room, and has him buy her a dog. Michael is angered that his wife has bonded with the woman, but hasn’t let go of their daughter. When he tries to send the nurse away, she seduces him.
The story is told through video segments. At the end of each segment, Dr. Turner appears to ruminate over the events we have seen, and to ask your opinion on various topics. Some of the questions are directly related to the story; others are general psychological questions, usually related to sex. After the questions, you are free to roam the 3D representation of the house. I’m not sure how the “clues” affect the outcome of the story, but they generally give background into the characters’ pasts or what they are thinking in the present. Michael, Allison, and Kathryn all keep diaries that you can find in various locations in the house. As you advance through the episodes, new areas of the house will open up to exploration. I found that few of the rooms had anything interesting. The things you should check out each time are the computer in the study, the table to the left of the bed in the master bedroom, and the computer and tape recorder in Kathryn’s room. A few times you will be in Dr. Turner’s office. The filing cabinet in the reception’s office contains files detailing the Overton’s case, but there’s not much else of interest. (Dr. Turner does seem to have a porn fetish, though…take a look at the TV in his office for some naughty nurse action.) When you are done exploring, there is a TAT (Thematic Apperception Test) to take. The TAT consists of pictures with corresponding questions. There’s a crazy mix of pictures — children’s book illustrations, classic artwork, erotic art. The questions ask about personality traits, sexual predilections, and oddly Freudian questions about how you feel about a mother in a painting.
There’s quite a bit of freedom in where you can go and what you can look at. You can take a look at every object in the house during every episode, and for the most part your efforts will be rewarded with something different each time. For example, in the Master Bedroom there’s a radio on the dresser. Each turn, there’s a different segment from a Dr. Laura-ish sex call-in show. In the bathroom, there’s an erotic art book next to the toilet. I’m not going to touch that one. Okay. If you choose, you can skip the exploring and click on an icon to go directly to the TAT. You can also receive a save game code at any point, or you can look at Dr. Turner’s “notes” on your responses to his questions. I found this to be one of the most entertaining portions of the game. For the most part, his notes matched my personality rather closely, and gave me some advice I could try, like drinking carrot and beet juice for awareness, or taking martial arts to expand my spiritual fulfillment.
Tender Loving Care is very easy to play, suitable for non-PC game players who would be inclined to sit on their couch and play with a remote control. The fourteen-page manual clearly describes all aspects of game play, and John Hurt’s voice guides you while you play. Navigating through the 3D environment was a breeze with the arrow keys and enter button of the remote. However, those with smaller screens will find it difficult to read the small text on some screens. I had to squint at much of it on my 20″ television from across my living room.
At first I couldn’t get into the story, but soon I began to enjoy it. After reading their diaries and learning more about their pasts, Michael, Allison, and Kathryn became three-dimensional people. I was a bit thrown by the end, but I don’t want to give it away lest you play it and get the same results.
The game ended up being rather fun, but I was let down by Tender Loving Care‘s low production values. According to the credits it was shot on film (and at one point there were plans to release it as a theatrical feature), but everything about it screams poor transfer from video with all the polish of a late-night cable soft-core porn flick. The picture is fuzzy, like a dub from a 8mm videocassette. Dark areas are washed out, and scenes alternate between having a reddish or bluish tint. Toward the end, there were yellowish burned-in areas. The 3D “walk-through” of the house looks good, but does suffer from some shimmering. Audio is presented in stereo, and while not sonically astounding, isn’t as distracting as the video problems.
I’d imagine that Tender Loving Care would appeal most to those who would also purchase soft-core porn discs — guys with lots of time on their hands and little female companionship. I can’t imagine it appealing much to women or to those of more discriminating tastes.
I would estimate that it took me eight to ten hours to play through the game, including the four episodes that I repeated. If the video quality had been a little higher, I may have been more interested in repeating the game to see if I could see another ending. As it stands, I will probably not play it again.
I’ve included a link to a very interesting article at Gamespot.com. There’s a blurb on the cover of Tender Loving Care that proclaims it was produced by the makers of “The 7th Guest” and “The 11th Hour.” Both of those games pioneered the use of full-motion video in computer games. However, the production of Tender Loving Care caused an outrage among the staff of Trilobyte (the publisher of “The 7th Guest”) for its sexually explicit content and its expensive $2.5 million price tag. Aftermath Media was formed when the production staff of Tender Loving Care split from Trilobyte. Read the article for the full story; it’s fascinating reading.