Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Momentum AS
Many in the adventure game community fall all over themselves praising ambitious new games (see: Syberia), seemingly regardless of the quality. Culpa Innata is no exception, an incredibly ambitious game, that while excellent at times, needs to be held to a higher standard if the genre has any hope of reviving.
Taking place in a post World War III Earth, an incredible, but entirely implausible system of government called the World Union has been established by the Western nations. The system is based on greed, pleasure, and economic growth. Nobody eats meat, drinks alcohol, or takes drugs. Monogamous relationships don’t exist, and neither does physical violence. Children are raised by professionals, not parents. And everyone is rated on a global index, so that others know how well they strive (eh, conform) in the society. While this type of society overtaking 75% of Earth’s population is impossible, it’s still sort of fun. That is until the naiveté of the World Union members becomes nauseating after the eightieth time they show utter shock and disgust at how somebody from a “rogue state” lives their lives.
You play as peace officer Phoenix Wallis, in charge of investigating a murder of a World Union citizen. While her personality is fairly engaging at first, she becomes frustrating as her growth as a character is painfully slow. By the end of the game, I was actively rooting against her as I couldn’t stand her anymore. In fact, I couldn’t stand any of the World Union members other than Phoenix ’s boss (who is an assertive, smart little bitch). Phoenix ’s best friend is insufferable, gossiping about sex and doling out terrible advice. And despite the case being confidential, Phoenix violates her code of ethics at every opportunity. Her interviewing skills are mostly poor, which is a shame considering that’s what you’ll be doing 80% of the time. The beginning starts out well, as you can approach characters in different manners to elicit information, but soon every conversation turns into an annoying conversation tree where many of your choices of interrogation are undesirable. And as World Union etiquette allows nobody to be bothered for more than a few minutes per day, you have to keep returning to witnesses over and over and over until they spill the beans.
One thing Culpa Innata does remarkably well is non-linear gameplay. There are many witnesses to see and tasks to complete, and there are several different paths that can be taken to reach the end. Phoenix also takes plenty of time for personal tasks (e.g. exercising, dancing, buying clothes), which while tedious at times, adds more realism to the investigation. Interrogating new applicants to the World Union is also a blast, as you attempt to catch them in lies about their pasts and motivations for leaving the rogue states.
Graphics are a mixed bag. The quality of the drawings is average, while the color schemes in fashion in the World Union are garish. But the city is imagined well and character movement (especially in the face) is exceptional. Unfortunately, lip-synching is off in a few places. And too many of the NPC’s look alike, with short hair, huge foreheads, and transparent eyes. The voice acting is also subpar outside of Phoenix (who makes up for her good voice with a terrible personality) and her boss, with many of the foreign accents being laughable. Many of the Russian characters sounded nothing but. At least the sound effects were pretty effective, if sparse.
Puzzles neither make nor break the game. A few are esoteric, albeit easy, and several are surprisingly clever and engaging. But as they are often clumped together, they provide little respite from the endless monotony of questions about people’s alibis and sexual histories.
The ending begs a sequel, which would probably be well received in the community. But I can’t get too excited about the prospect (and now, sever years later without one, it seems not many others have been either), especially since I have little ambition to replay this one, despite all the alternate paths. Culpa Innata, a game inundated with sex, simply isn’t sexy.