Welcome to the grim and gripping world of Culpa Innata. In the not too distant future, mankind has ushered in a so-called golden age with the formation of a World Union – a utopian society made up of an elite group of countries. In this society, greed and gratuitous self-fulfillment have evolved into cherished ideals. Citizens are rated according to a Human Development Index (HDI) score that reflects the money they make and defines their social status. Altruistic tendencies are deemed a crippling weakness that is blamed for hindering individual development and economic progress in the societies of the past. Prosperity is a science, sex is a necessary commodity, and disease and capital crime are practically non-existent. Only the smartest, healthiest and wealthiest are deemed worthy of living in the World Union. The rest of the world is made up of Rogue States that exist in a dystopian mess of rampant crime and corruption, with their citizens clamoring to gain entry into the World Union, for a chance at a better life.
But something is amiss in this World Union utopia. A citizen of the World Union has just been murdered in the Rogue State of Russia. The murder of a World Union citizen is big news in a society that has seemingly eradicated such heinous crimes completely. This is where you come in. You play a young and inexperienced World Union Peace Officer named Phoenix Wallis assigned to investigate the unprecedented murder in this third-person point-and-click adventure. Almost as soon as you begin your investigation, you find out about another mysterious death of a renowned professor in Adrianopolis, a border town between the World Union and Russia. Is there any connection here? It is up to you to find out. You will question the friends and associates of the victims, solve several thorny puzzles and piece together the clues that reveal the motives behind these deaths. And just maybe, you might find more than you were looking for.
The futuristic world of Culpa Innata struck me as bizarre and breathtaking at the same time. The atmosphere is reminiscent of The Longest Journey series, but with its own unique look and feel. The massive concrete structures and distinctive interior décor of the locales around the city are everything you would expect from a modern city in the near future. The distinctive dresses and eccentric mannerisms of its inhabitants fit well with the futuristic theme. There is an incredible amount of information on the events leading up to the formation of the World Union that you can read about at the various places your investigation will take you. And as you talk with people, you will get glimpses of how the World Union society operates and how it came to be. It is certainly an immersive environment, and one that has been meticulously created with clearly a lot of attention paid to the tiniest of details.
You won’t find any major surprises in the user interface department if you’ve played even a handful of adventure games before. Navigation is a simple affair with Phoenix obeying your every whim and walking over to wherever you click on the screen. And once you manage to locate your personal assistant (PA) at the beginning of the game, it will prove to be an indispensible resource during your investigation. The PA can be accessed at any time during the game with a right click and gives you easy access to a contact list, inventory, navigation map, diary and game controls. The contact list has the phone numbers and description of the characters that you meet. The inventory shows the items you have picked up. The navigation map (once it has been updated) shows the map of Adrianopolis and allows you to quickly go to a location with a single click. The diary is regularly updated with Phoenix' thoughts. It serves as a “to-do list” of sorts and is invaluable if you’re ever stuck and in need of some guidance. Goals or things to do are written in red ink in the diary, and de-highlighted to black ink on completion.
Your investigation in Adrianopolis (and beyond) will be spread out over the course of several days, reminiscent of the classic Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. Each day will allow you enough time to complete only a limited number of activities. You will start out from your office at the Global Peace and Security Network building in the morning, and travel to different parts of the city, looking for people to question and places to explore. Every time you travel to a new location, time will elapse and as soon as it’s evening, Phoenix will be too tired to continue with the investigation. At that point you will head home to prepare for an evening of slumber, dinner, clubbing or a late cup of cappuccino with your friend Sandra, depending on your available options. Some of the locations in the city (such as certain clubs and restaurants) will be accessible only during the night, and you can continue your investigation late into the evening. Eventually, you will run out of things to do, and head back to your apartment for some well deserved sleep.
As you progress in the game, new locations on the map will appear, giving you the opportunity to explore new places and talk to different people. The gameplay in Culpa Innata is somewhat non-linear in that events, people and locations will be revealed or can be resolved in many different orders. Conversations during your investigation will be kept brief, with Phoenix only being allowed to ask a few questions before ending the dialog. And you can only talk to a person once a day. So if you choose the wrong questions to ask, you will have to continue the conversation on another day to get the useful information you’re looking for. Most evenings, you will have the option of meeting your best friend Sandra at the Café Rose in the evening, to gossip about the people you meet and things related to the case. Here you can talk to your heart’s content and possible pick up helpful tips on what to do next. A note about the conversations in the game – there is a lot (and I mean a LOT) of talk about sex which might be deemed unsuitable for younger players.
There are many puzzles in Culpa Innata, which for the most part are varied and interesting, although sometimes frustrating (till you close the game in disgust, start doing something else and then have a sudden revelation). Just to give you an idea, you will have to piece together parts of a suspects’ face based on a witness description, break into a locked cabinet armed only with a hairpin, partially solve a Rubik’s cube and create paths through a clutter of wires to connect the appropriate leads on an electronic circuit board. A lot of the puzzles rely on old fashioned investigative techniques – keeping your eyes and ears open for unusual codes, pictures, patterns and sounds that will help you solve puzzles later. I would recommend keeping a paper and pen handy to jot down any numbers or words/phrases that stand out. While your PA diary does a fairly good job of recording a lot of the relevant information your investigation uncovers, sometimes it fails to record some important details.
So after having finished playing Culpa Innata, what do I think of it? I absolutely loved this game! Culpa Innata is the reason why I play adventure games. The story is gripping with several twists and turns that will keep you glued to your screen. The characters you encounter during your investigation have a remarkable depth to them (and lots of secrets) that will unravel with time, at just the right pace. The beautiful and imaginative 3D environments, easy-on-the-ears soundtrack (I have a few beats still stuck in my head), excellent voice acting and extraordinary attention to detail make it easy to immerse yourself in this futuristic saga.
But Culpa Innata also has a few shortcomings. I frequently caught Culpa Innata’s navigation system napping. Ideally, the mouse pointer turns into an arrow when at the edge of the screen, if Phoenix can move off-screen in that direction. However, there were several instances when I had to click multiple times to get Phoenix to follow the arrows. Sometimes navigation arrows did not appear at all, making it easy to miss visiting certain parts of a locale. A major gripe was that captions, even when enabled, failed to appear when Phoenix thought out aloud (which she did quite often). Then there were times when Phoenix would run through solid objects, particularly towards the end of the game. There was a pretty nasty bug at the end that got triggered when Phoenix ran through a wall, and got stuck running around in a loop behind the solid scenery (I could hear her running but only see a wall). I had to restart the game from a previous save. Many of these issues have already been addressed with a patch, which can be downloaded from Strategy First - the patch will not invalidate existing saves.
Ultimately, Culpa Innata succeeds in what it sets out to accomplish – creating a believable futuristic world straight out of a good science fiction novel, and telling an intriguing story that keeps your interest till you cross the finish line. Sure, the ending leaves many questions unanswered, but it does resolve a few mysteries and gives a glimpse into a very strange society which we are sure to learn more about in the inevitable sequel. Think of Culpa Innata as a mystery in the vein of the brilliant Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, set in an out-of-this-world setting from The Longest Journey, with vast environments to explore and an occasional sense of desolation, similar to Keepsake. I give Culpa Innata two thumbs up and recommend that you don’t miss this gem of a game, especially if you’re a science fiction fan.