Culpa Innata review
In an era where adventures are coming under fire for becoming stagnant and stuck in their ways, it's hardly surprising when many that venture out of the woodwork claim to be a revolution or reinvention of the genre. Culpa Innata is one that purports to be a different type of adventure, and while it mostly delivers on its promise of non-linearity, at times it falls short of its ambitions despite providing a substantial and enjoyable experience.
Culpa Innata is a third-person point-and-click adventure that focuses on the role of Phoenix Wallis, a Peace Officer that lives in the new state of Adrianopolis. The year is 2047, and Adrianopolis is part of a World Union created to eliminate crime and poverty by enforcing a mandate: the strongest and the most selfish will inherit the world. Sex is solely for entertainment, wealth and prosperity are considered imperative, and anything not scientific is considered unworthy. Children are reared not by the parents (or “bio-family,” as the game refers to them) but by specialists at a Child Development Center. All non-World Union countries are therefore deemed as “Rogue States,” considered to be inferior due to their old ways of emotions, emphasis on family and spiraling crime levels. Those wishing to move to the new order have to pass a series of rigorous tests, as well as interviews designed to highlight any potential troublemakers.
However, all is not well in Adrianopolis. A Union Citizen named Bogdanov has been murdered across the nearby border in the rogue state of Russia—an event which also mysteriously coincides with the unexpected death of a prominent professor within the Union itself. Phoenix Wallis is assigned to investigate the deaths and discovers that all is not quite as stable in the New World Order as she previously thought.
From the synopsis above, you can probably tell that Culpa Innata is an in-depth game in terms of storyline, and this is reflected within the world itself and much of the dialogue. A detailed timeline of events has been established from the dawn of history up to the present year of 2047, while there are guides and regulations available to you that further expand upon the state's history. Because of the story’s depth, though, many of the revelations are unraveled slowly, so those looking for a quick-paced game full of twists will find the plentiful dialogue hard to digest. The opening few hours are particularly slow and plodding before the story really becomes intriguing. Culpa Innata is accurately described as a slow burner and while this isn't a bad thing, it can often be lacking in excitement.
As a result of the futuristic setting, technology has understandably moved on. Pen and paper is a thing of the past; everything is now conducted through the use of gadgets and computers, and computers even monitor who is at the front door. It's a shame, really, that the graphics don't reflect this as much as they could. Although many of the offices that Phoenix visits boast modern, dome-like structures that you might expect from the future, the visuals themselves look dated and rough around the edges. The choice of locations doesn't deviate much from the office/waiting room format and although you'll get to visit a few shops and an underground network later on (assuming you uncover this during your first play through), a bit more variety could have been included. This is not helped by some poor character movement animation. There is one scene particularly where Phoenix participates in a chase, and the animation of both running characters is so ridiculous, the illusion of reality is ruined. However, credit must go to the developers for the effort put into the facial models; not only is the lip-synching fantastic, but the eyebrows, eyes and lips move naturally and realistically. They are the most realistic portrayal of the human face I have so far encountered in an adventure game, and the effect really brings the characters more to life.
Unfortunately, the realism is let down slightly by some poor voice acting. Thankfully, Phoenix is one of the better-voiced characters in the game, conveying genuine emotion at the right moments. The same can not be said of the bulk of her fellow co-stars; while Chief Dagmar Morssen, fellow Peace Officer Julio Dominguez and best friend Sandra Pescara are more than adequately voiced, the rest of the cast (especially those with Eastern European accents) are appalling, almost akin to the effect of dragging your nails across a chalkboard. The musical score is fairly insignificant, rarely having an impact on the game itself, but this doesn't detract much from the atmosphere. Curiously, those who select the subtitle option will notice that though all cutscenes and dialogue are subtitled, Phoenix's inner thoughts are not, meaning you'll have to refer to the written diary to see what has been said.
Phoenix Wallis herself at times is a difficult character to really relate to. Her naiveté during the most obvious lines of questioning becomes irritating and actually makes the realistic setting less plausible. How can a Peace Officer who is in the line of work of questioning potential Union Citizens from every conceivable background, still not know a word of slang or basic human customs? Control of Phoenix can also be a little frustrating, although this is a function of the game design: clicking in a direction to walk can change the camera angle, meaning she'll wander off to an entirely different place than you intended. Some characters you meet vary in personality, from the stern and strict Chief Morssen and the flamboyant Roger Arnett to the deeply irritating Gladys and the infuriating assistants at the Thing Store. Sadly, the rest of the cast lack any real personality and are pretty bland despite the amount of dialogue each one has to offer.
All citizens belonging to the Union wear sophisticated headsets known as PDAs, which contain all personal details, maps, contact lists containing useful telephone numbers, and a diary. This PDA is the main interface that Phoenix will utilize throughout the game, where the diary will automatically update to follow the story and important locations will be made available upon their disclosure during conversation. The fact that such a device is an integral part of the gaming world makes it feel more natural than many inventory systems. Incoming calls are displayed via a video of the person speaking, and seeing this from a third person perspective is quite a surreal experience! There are also occasions when the PDA malfunctions deliberately to set up several puzzles which is a nice touch and adds again to the feeling of a living and breathing environment. The ability to be transported directly to a location just by selecting it from the map eliminates a lot of unnecessary walking that some games are guilty of.
With the main character’s role as a Peace Officer (futuristic Police Detective to you and I), the bulk of the game comes down to investigation, with some puzzles thrown into the mix. The world culture dictates that you can only ask a limited number of questions per person, and each person can only be visited once a day. This also means that the game has a clock, where moving between locations passes time and certain areas can only be explored at night. At first this system takes some getting used to, but it soon becomes a natural part of the world. Culpa Innata is indeed fairly non-linear, with the ability to go anywhere and talk to anyone whenever you want (with the exception of the night clubs in the evening), assuming Phoenix has the information or permission to do so. If you really desire, you can act like a complete slacker and watch holovision (futuristic TV), visit the gym and change your outfit after work hours--although this will obviously make your investigation take longer. The non-linear structure will not hinder your progress, however; regardless of what questions you ask, or how long you take, it is impossible to reach a dead end.
There are occasions when the dialogue drags on as a result of this system, and the inability to skip individual lines (whole sequences must be skipped instead) can make it more tedious than necessary. A lot of irrelevant lines of dialogue crop up as well, with many topics overlapping and focusing on the same points of conversation when it really isn't needed. There is also a somewhat bizarre obsession with sex throughout the game. While sex does play a role in some of the story and it's a welcome change to see the matter approached in an adult manner, it's slightly bemusing as to why this line of questioning has to crop up with pretty much every character you encounter. There is nothing graphic or untoward about the way the topic is discussed, it's just a little odd and over the top.
As a consequence of the mass amount of dialogue, there is far more discussion than there is puzzle solving, although what puzzles are included are very well designed. These vary among jigsaw type puzzles, using encoding computer technology to reveal images, finding items, picking locks, assembling video footage, as well as a number of circuit boards (for the more mechanically minded). They never feel illogical and despite some really tough ones near the end of a hidden side quest, there is a set way to complete them. None of the puzzles feel out of place, and they all integrate well into the investigation.
One of the most enjoyable puzzles is interviewing potential immigrants to become World Union citizens. Each interviewee is rigged up to the equivalent of a futuristic polygraph test, with several bars to monitor their reactions. One bar decreases from 100 when there is an emotional reaction to a question, while the other two monitor whether a lie (or fabrication) has been told. These are essentially dialogue puzzles, and depending on your choices the candidates will either pass or fail the examination. It is genuinely possible to admit a candidate who shouldn't be there because of their dubious past by asking the wrong questions, and this will affect your "HDI" ranking at the end of the game. Failure does not mean the end of the game, it just means that small events and your scoring will be affected.
At around 20 hours in length to complete in its entirety, Culpa Innata is a reasonably lengthy adventure and the non-linear structure means that replaying the game can trigger events or the appearance of characters in a different order. This can be shortened to around 15 hours if certain characters or events have not been triggered during the course of the adventure. Yet while there are new people and puzzles to discover the second time around (assuming the subquest isn’t stumbled upon from the outset) such content isn't detailed enough to really add to the story or the overall experience. The subquest doesn't have any direct correlation with the main storyline, and its lack of a resolution does make you question whether it should be in the game at all.
Near the end of the game, it feels like the depth of the storyline goes against Culpa Innata. It is so in-depth that by the time the conclusion nears, there is the sense that the smaller details have been rushed just to finish the game, and the ending is very disappointing, leaving many questions unresolved. The entire subquest is completely neglected, and Phoenix's doubts and unhappiness are never addressed. It's almost as if the developers bit off more than they could chew, and had to race to wrap up matters before the game was released. Either that or there was a sequel in mind right from the start to polish off those loose ends, resulting in a game that feels incomplete in its own right.
It must also be noted that the game is sadly blighted from technical difficulties in the form of game crashes. Although some of these have now been fixed with a series of patches, there are still occasions when the game will quit and cut back to the desktop, meaning that saving regularly is essential.
Despite the various flaws highlighted here, there is a lot to like about Culpa Innata. The storyline gradually draws you in, making you wonder what's around the corner, and the non-linear gameplay makes it feel like a real investigation. The ability to choose where and when to go means that it is possible to play the game in your own way, which is something that not many adventure games allow. This approach to decision-making genuinely gives the impression of freedom, even if the storyline doesn't actually alter as a result. The puzzles are entertaining throughout and the ability to replay different sections for slightly different results is appealing. There are plenty of rough edges, but those who have the patience for the mountains of dialogue and can see past the ropey visuals and gut-wrenching voice acting will find a reasonably engrossing world to explore. Here's hoping for a sequel.
Article editing provided by Evan Dickens.
Culpa Innata is an ambitious adventure that at times falters due to some repetitive dialogue, bland characters and an ending that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. However, the non-linear approach combined with some clever puzzles makes this a murder mystery worth investigating.