Culpa Innata

Review by Old Rooster
January 2008

"It Is the Golden Age in Mankind's Evolution"

Welcome to the year 2047. With the enlightened countries of the Earth united under the leadership of the World Union, we find the best society ever created—no crime, poverty, or disease. Citizens are the smartest, healthiest, and wealthiest. Surely, civilization has reached its zenith. Or has it? Clearly, science has brought us to a perfection of societal relationships. Life is good—perfect even. Or is it?

Against this intriguing Orwellian backdrop, we are introduced to a young security officer, Phoenix Wallis, who becomes the lens through which you see and play the game. We follow her through a murder investigation of a citizen traveling to Russia, one of the "rogue states."

"Individuals Are Worth What They Own and Consume" —Encyclopedia Galactica

Culpa Innata, however, presents more than a murder mystery. As we become acquainted with Phoenix, we also explore this society, its rules, relationships, idiosyncrasies. Initially, Phoenix seems rather naive about procedures and aspects of her job and surroundings. She sometimes acts like she's never seen things before. But this musing and self-reflection technique is beautifully used to inform us, the players. Phoenix starts and continues, for the most part, as a "true believer." She has drunk the Kool Aid, so to speak. As the game moves on, though, we do find some questions, even seeds of doubt, developing.

One of the advantages of an adventure game is that you can take your time exploring, reading, absorbing, thinking. You don't have zombies, RTS armies, or RPG tasks around the corner to be worried about. Culpa Innata uses this feature particularly well. Near the beginning of the game, for example, you'll find bulletin boards describing in appalling detail the events leading to this controlled, "perfect" society. As Phoenix comments while walking by them, "So much has changed in the last thirty years." You'll learn about a hyper-depression in 2015 and a Russia-China-India oil war in 2025. It's important in this game to take your time with the environs and read plaques, signs, clues as to the nature of Phoenix's world.

In addition to signage and Phoenix's musings enriching our knowledge of the World Union, we also have many conversations with many characters, all of which tell us something about this sexually obsessed population. As one of the cast comments, "Selfishness is in human nature and is a good thing." It truly is a hedonistic, arrogant, quite cold society.

"Finally, I Can Get on with My New Assignment" —Phoenix

Well, this is just a game, isn't it? Having, I trust, interested you in entering this "brave new world," it is fitting to discuss some technical aspects of how that journey is managed. Culpa Innata is a third-person perspective adventure with the player controlling Phoenix exclusively. As is traditional, Phoenix has areas to explore, items to accumulate, problems to solve, conversations in which to engage. Culpa Innata installed and loaded easily on my DX 10 Vista system, playing smoothly and beautifully full-screen on a 24" wide-screen monitor. In spite of concerns reported by some, I had no crashes or other glitches after installing the available patch. In that regard, it should be noted that the development team has been extraordinarily active and helpful in adventure community forums as well as on the game's homepage.

Phoenix works with a most effective interface, highlighted by her Personal Assistant device. This technological marvel projects a holographic image featuring a contact list (including genetic information), inventory (showing both information and use), navigation map, diary, and controls (save, load, exit). Particular mention must be made of a very neat diary feature. When Phoenix's thoughts are written in red, this represents a task or issue still to be accomplished or resolved. Since the game soon becomes very nonlinear, this hint system is most helpful.

The World Union is presented in a colorful and detailed fashion, although the graphics are dated by today's big-studio standards, with the technical quality level a concern (maximum resolution, jagged edges, etc.). The choice of furnishings is sometimes odd, as well. It's been 40 years since I've seen so many lava lamps! Particular care, though, has been given to facial mannerisms, such as lip movement coinciding with speech. Background music is satisfactory, with voice acting of the two main characters, Phoenix and her boss, very well done. Ambient sounds, however, are minimal, perhaps deliberately reflecting the relative sterility of this society.

"You're Eventually Gonna Make a Mistake" —Julio to Phoenix

We've mentioned the Personal Assistant. It's an earpiece that everyone needs to wear. Initially, Phoenix has misplaced hers and has to locate it ASAP. The first part of the game is nicely used as a tutorial, guiding our heroine through her own office as well as security headquarters. This will familiarize the player with game controls and provide an introduction to this special kind of world. Scene transitions are generally smoothly done, and as new locales open, a very efficient instant-transit map becomes available. Pathfinding and camera angles can be a bit awkward in spots.

As the game develops and new locations are added, we come upon one of the most distinctive features of Culpa Innata—its basic nonlinearity. Although there are triggers to move you along, there is clearly more than one path to what appears to be the possibility of multiple outcomes. I say "appears to be," because I'm well into my second play-through at this point, deliberately doing things differently, and have yet to see the end result. My suspicion is I won't be able to solve the crime.

There are some parameters and constrictions placed upon Phoenix, imposed by the nature of the controlled society (and, of course, the game design). Our detective has twenty days to solve the crime. At times, she needs to go home to sleep or even head out for an evening's entertainment. What happens during those days is largely up to you, the player. Our police procedural tasks do require a lot of interviewing. But, even here, the society has rules. Suspects can only be interviewed once per day for a limited time period. This may lead to several return visits, but it doesn't necessarily have to. It is possible, even likely, that you can finish the game without nearly exhausting all of the sidetracks and potential conversations.

"I Think I've Heard Enough Nonsense from Him Today" —Phoenix

Conversations with NPCs can become exhausting, boring, redundant. Choices can be made within conversational trees that may lead Phoenix in differing directions, and whole trees can be skipped with a right-click of the mouse. The scripting emphasis within exchanges seems more related to societal backdrop information than to solving the crime. Although it soon becomes apparent there is an underlying theme going on in the game beyond the specific murder, you will find yourself wanting to move quickly beyond these extended chats with sometimes very silly people. Indeed, although Culpa Innata is a self-contained game, it does beg for a sequel to further explore a hinted-at underground movement and Phoenix's possible disillusionment arising from her increasing questions.

Early on, we find that citizens are awarded a Human Development Index (HDI) score, which you would like to be 90 or above. This is largely based on efficiency and societal rule-following. So, too, the player is awarded an HDI result at the end of the game, presumably based on efficiency in solving the crime in the most straightforward way. Replayability may alter this result one way or the other. Some players are replaying just for that reason. I must say, unless there is a pragmatic outcome to replaying beyond number count, I wouldn't find that particularly motivating in and of itself.

Although I'm not one who is particularly enchanted by puzzles for puzzles' sake in adventure games, I must say that I was very impressed by the offerings in Culpa Innata. They are mostly inventory- and design-based, generally in a middling range of difficulty. They often provided needed relief from the sometimes tiresome drudgery of trudging about the city engaging in often exasperating interviews.

"I'm So Proud of Our World Union" —Phoenix

Culpa Innata is one of the finest adventure games of 2007. Although not without flaws (graphics, pathfinding, wordiness), it offers a solid police procedural within an engrossing futuristic setting. Further, the game is the most nonlinear I can recall within this genre, offering multiple paths to differing outcomes. The acting and puzzles are top-notch, as is the underlying deeper storyline, which makes one hope we see a sequel from this talented development team. Congratulations!

What I Like Most About Culpa Innata

  • A fascinating and well-fleshed out futuristic society;
  • Excellent storyline—police procedural plus deeper underlying theme;
  • Detailed depictions of the history and nature of the World Union;
  • Effective PA interface, particularly the diary task feature;
  • Multiple paths and outcomes; excellent replayability;
  • Very good facial depictions and animations;
  • Fine voice acting, especially from the lead characters;
  • An excellent set of puzzles, both as to variety and range of difficulty;
  • Outstanding development team follow-up, both formally and informally.

What I Didn't Like

  • Dated graphics, often of mediocre quality;
  • Camera angles and pathfinding sometimes problematic;
  • In spite of instant transport map, too much footwork required;
  • Extreme conversational wordiness, often irrelevant. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Momentum AS
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: November 1, 2007

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 2000/XP/Vista
Pentium III 800 MHz/Athlon XP1600+ (Pentium IV 3.0 GHz/AMD Athlon 64 3700+ recommended)
512 MB RAM (1024 MB recommended)
128 MB video card (512 MB recommended)
DirectX 9.0c
Sound card
3.5 GB free hard drive space
DVD player

Where to Find It

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