This family needs some TLC
Developer: Aftermath Media
Publisher: Nightdive Studios
Genre: Casual Adventure FMV
Type: Single Player
Release date: January 1, 1998
On Steam: March 30, 2017
Tender Loving Care is an old school FMV game based on a 1984 novel of the same name. You are a voyeur of the goings-on of the Overton residents throughout the game. By the time you arrive on the scene their house is being sold, but weirdly no one is buying. Why is that? Dr. Turner (John Hurt) joins you as the narrator, as you replay the events that took place in the house between Allison (Marie Caldare) and Michael Overton (Michael Esposito) and the live-in psychiatric nurse, Katherine (Beth Tegarden).
Allison and Michael’s story begins shortly before a nurse is set to move in, allowing us to see how it was beforehand. Allison seems to be in an almost coma-like state as she lies in bed and stares, or makes something for Jody, their daughter. Michael takes care of everything that Allison used to, but every time Jody is mentioned you can see how he skirts around the topic. Allison notably shows distaste, but plays along, for Jody. Little does she know a nurse is coming to nurture her back to how she was before the accident that caused Jody to be severely injured. At first, the nurse, Katherine, is professional, though flirty with Michael, but she ends up spiraling the family out of control.
Rather than going on and spoiling the huge Jody plot twist, instead I will talk about how the player interacts with the environment. You take a relatively passive role, watching a few scenes play out before you can interact with the game. This interaction takes the form of a questionnaire, an optional exploration mode, and then another questionnaire, before the game moves on to more scenes. The questionnaires assess how you viewed each scene, asking questions about the motivations characters might have had for their actions, or their thoughts about each situation. The way you answer affects how the story progresses, but how may not be obvious until you are towards the end. This allows alternate scenes to play depending on how you interpreted previous scenes. If you see the scenes as sexual, you will see more nudity and sex scenes, in contrast to them being hinted at if you see them otherwise.
Exploration is optional; you can even hit a button to skip it entirely and go straight to the next section. But I do recommend exploring. You’re able to read the journals the characters leave behind, as well as books and various other things. You can see what the characters thought during the scene, or learn about some of their past experiences. Once in a while you can use the phone and either Allison, Michael, or Katherine will make an appearance to talk to you, giving their thoughts themselves. But the best part, and my favourite, must be hearing the talk show on the radio.
Once you are done exploring, you’re presented with another questionnaire, but this time it’s in order for the game to analyse you. I do not know if this actually affects the story — the popular consensus is that it does not — but you do a V TAT (Virtual Thematic Apperception Test) consisting of answering a question relating to a specific photo. This ranges from asking what a duck is doing to what is a goose doing on a woman. Once you get the reins again you will be able to see Dr. Turner’s notes on your evaluation.
This cycle repeats, with the exception of Dr. Turner mixing up the V TATs a little, until the game finishes, presenting you with one of its seven endings. Some endings are harder to achieve than others, as the game looks into a combination of choices in some situations. For example, rather than just saying Michael may have anger issues, you might have to also say he was attracted to Katherine.
I have heard of Tender Loving Care having multiple versions — four from what I can gather — and the one on Steam seems to be the worst one in quality. The video definitely shows its age as it constantly blurs. While I am glad the Steam version has a simplified saving system, it also lacks the options to play all the scenes without interruption and read a full psychological evaluation.
+ Interesting premise
+ Acting is pretty good, with John Hurt being the best
+/- Make sure you know interaction is on a passive level; you don’t directly affect the story, but only indirectly as you answer questions
+/- Some have had problems with the interface, though I only had problems with it once at the beginning
Tender Loving Care is certainly an interesting FMV game, from the questions it asks you to the situations in the house. While exploration is optional, it does help you become more invested in the story. The game takes anywhere from around two hours to around seven hours depending on how fast you can read. With multiple endings and alternate scenes, it can hold your attention through a number of replays. I had fun playing through and seeing all the twists, some of which surprised me. And maybe Tender Loving Care will become a ‘so bad it’s good’ soap opera to you as well.