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Games time forgot: Tender Loving Care

4:18 PM on 07.24.2007 // Anthony Burch

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Following my minor essay on live actors in videogaming yesterday, I thought it'd be only appropriate to make this week's forgotten game one populated, plotted, and almost entirely driven by real actors -- chief among them, John Motherf*cking Hurt.

Tender Loving Care, created by the makers of The 7th Guest and 11th Hour is an "interactive movie" in every sense of the word: you make choices that determine where the plot goes and how characters will react to things, but there's no real challenge to a game where the player makes decisions simply by answering personal, psychological questions about his or herself, in addition to divulging possible interpretations of the story at large.

It's an unusual "game," to be sure, but it's also an imaginative, clever, and entertaining one.

Hit the jump for a healthy dose of sex, murder, psychology, and the guy who got owned by a chestburster in Alien.

All pictures taken from hyah , before anyone accuses me of being related to Eric Bauman. 

Story:

The Overton house is for sale, but nobody is buying. The couple that currently lives there has evidently experienced some tragedy that not only scares off all potential homeowners, but has taken a devastating psychological toll on its current occupants. Michael and Allison Overton are falling apart, and it is up to Doctor Turner (John Hurt), the player, and a psychiatric nurse to figure out what went wrong. 

There's obviously a lot more to the story, but it all ties into the 

Gameplay:

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Tender Loving Care is simply structured. As the player, you watch a short, noninteractive scene involving Michael, Allison, and their nurse. After the scene is finished, Dr. Turner asks you for your interpretation of the events that transpired. The player is asked how he or she feels about certain characters, what their motivations might be, and how the overall problems of the characters might be solved. Once these questions have been answered, the player is given the option to search the Overton household for clues as to what exactly happened to Michael and Allison, which, in turn, prompt more questions from Turner (what could a print of "Nighthawks" on a bedroom wall mean?).

After a quick run-through of the house, Dr. Turner again quizzes the player -- but this time, the questions don't relate to the story. Turner directly asks the player things like, "Do you like to look in people's windows at night?" or "Four-foot-long penises are: Funny, Offensive, Too Big, or Just My Size?" Where the first round of questioning details the story of the family, the second round deals with the player, and the player alone. The player's answers to these questions, in addition to gently nudging the plot in one direction or another, are also psychoanalyzed by Turner. After the questions have been answered, you can check Turner's notes to see his psychological evaluation of you, along with his own personal bits of advice. This mechanic may be one of the most fun in the game, as Turner's evaluations were pretty damned accurate, and his advice, while sometimes odd ("Start practicing martial arts"), often made a great deal of sense.

After this, the cycle repeats itself and another noninteractive cutscene plays, (this one decided by your interpretation of the previous scene and the household clues pertaining it, in addition to your own psych eval) followed by more clues and questions and tests and so on, until you reach one of the five possible endings.

What is most interesting about the narrative is that it is truly decided by player actions: if you answer questions and interpret scenes in a perverted way, sex scenes will become more frequent and more graphic. Alternately, if you answer questions with a degree of subtlety of naivete, the sex will be hinted at instead of actually shown, or simply excised altogether. The story plays out in a way customized for each individual player, and it does so without actually forcing the player to choose how or when particular things should happen. Rather than presenting a simple branching storyline where the player actively tells the game which path to take, the game takes into account what sort of person the player is, and builds the story from there. It's an interesting and damned unique take on storytelling that, quite frankly, I'd like to see more of.

Why You Probably Haven't Played It:

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Even ignoring the fact that it is an interactive FMV game, it's also an interactive FMV game with pretty low production values. There's nothing particularly awful about the acting, script, or set design, but the entire game seems to have been shot on video -- and badly transferred video, at that. This gives the game an odd, softcore porn sort of vibe: the trailer should give you some idea as to how closely the visuals of Tender Loving Care resemble those of, say, an episode of Red Shoe Diaries. At any given moment during my time with the game, I fully expected Krista Allen to walk in and start faking orgasms.

Beyond that, this is, indeed, an interactive movie: unlike other FMV titles like Spycraft or Night Trap, which are actual games that can be played in real time, TLC is much more of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure title (except with more sex and probing psychological questions, of course). It's a difficult game to really get into, and an even more difficult game to recommend: if you aren't the type who is willing to trade off total gameplay control for an interesting, evolving story and personal introspection, Tender Loving Care is most assuredly not for you. If these things do sound interesting, TLC is definitely worth a look: it goes for about $20 in its current version, and can be played with a regular DVD player. If nothing else, it's a game that non-gamers can play and/or watch.




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