Culpa Innata Print
Written by Starfox   
Thursday, 07 February 2008 18:00

 

Developer: Momentum AS
Publisher: Strategy First
No Demo Available
Official Site
Average Price (at review publication time) = US$20 (download only from Steam and download or box version from Strategy first online store)


ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood, Violence, Language, strong sexual content)
European PEGI Mature 16+ (Depiction of violence, Sexual references)

 

 


In the adventure gaming genre, there are two kind of games. On one side, there is the vast majority which despite some interesting stories and puzzles remains in the same strict point & click gameplay spirit that has been driven the genre almost since it exists (well after the huge leap that represented going from full text adventure to point & click ones) then there are those -- in a far fewer number -- trying to bring something new to the genre introducing a new gameplay twist not necessarily completely departing from the Point & Click thing but different enough to be considered as an attempt at something new (like the Tex Murphy's series, The Longest Journey, the Nomad Soul, Indigo Prophecy or much more recently The Experiment). Today my brothers and sisters, we're gathered here to discuss one of this rare phenomenons, Culpa Innata.

Recently I've read about it and was intrigued enough to give it a try. So let's go with some review.

 

 

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Damn my Latin is rusted

Note: The following comes from the very beginning of the game intro sequence.

 

 

CULPA INNATA (kul'pae - guilt, sin; innätõõs - innate, inborn) : A period of Post Modern History. Starts with the end of the 111 Years Wars in 2025. Ends in 2052 with The Devolution.

It is the peak period of the materialistic world view where all developed countries and regions with significant natural resources have been united under a New World Order. In this system, selfishness was the first rule. Individuals were worth what they owned and consumed and the overall objective was to perpetuate their genes and the system.

Very few were aware of the incomprehensibly inhumane methods implemented by this order in the name of Global Peace and Tranquility.The period had lasted 27 years, providing unprecedented tranquility at the expense of reversing the evolution. It came to an end however on May 19th 2052, also known as the first day of The Devolution.

The events that triggered The Devolution still remain unknown since all records were lost during the two years blackout.

ENCYCLOPEDIA GALACTICA


And so the adventure of Culpa Innata begins like a footnote in a dusty history book. But the game itself takes place right during the period described above so it is some kind of a journey in the past. The events already happened, but no one knows what exactly triggered the end of the almighty World Union. The player will be the one to recollect the truth.

 

 

 

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The year is 2047. The place is Eastern Europe in the territory of the World Union. The world has been ravaged by terrorism, wars, riots, pollution, diseases -- you name it -- during the first quarter of the 21st century and the World Union was created in order to replace Nations that were deemed inefficient at doing their job because far too altruist and complex, not to mention that they had a tendency to put too much their noses in the personal business of individuals who just wanted to make profit. Half the world (roughly all the current occidental Nations) become united under this new banner while the other half (mainly Russia, China and India) remained under the ancient system of Nations which grants them the "privilege" to be known as Rogue States. The life seems good in the Union without fightings, without crime and where everybody is free to spend their free time in the best way possible (more on that later) while attempting to make shitloads of money. But this pretty image is suddenly shaken on a day of April 2047 by the murder of a World Union Citizen in the city of Odessa in the Rogue State of Russia. This murder is the first violent crime commited against a World Union citizen over the past 15 years.

 

The character the player incarnates in the game, Phoenix Wallis, is a Peace Officer of the GPSN (Global Peace and Security Network). As one of the best noted young officers of the GPSN she finds herself in charge of the murder case -- and we have to remember here that the GPSN normally never deals with investigations on violent crimes since there has been none in the Union in more than a decade. Hence her task won't be easy for a number of factors, one of them being that she's a bit on the naive side -- to remain polite but at times you'll probably find her just a complete moron -- the other being that the people of the Union is hyper protected and the power of a GPSN officer is just a little over the absolute zero and if people just don't want to answer your questions, you just have to back off. Obtaining a mere financial audit warrant for someone might prove a daunting task

 

 

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The utopia? Finally?

So it would seem. At least living in the World Union appears to be so good that a lot of Rogue State people want to come to it. But that is not so easy because the World Union has some strict rules to preserve its integrity and peace. Every rogue stater is free to "try" to become a member of the Union but they are required to have an almost perfect genetic pool, a rather good physical shape and a good IQ. Furthermore they must be able to adapt to the regulations and way of life and thinking of the Union and that's probably the biggest problem.

Because here's the thing. In the Union, even if there's no government strictly speaking -- just the GPSN to keep watch so nothing bad happens, especially regarding interactions with the Rogue States -- there is nevertheless a hierarchy based on the HDI (the Human Development Index) which is noted on a scale of 100. Starting at 69 one is at the lowest rank of the society, a Disciple, between 73 and 90 one becomes a Devotee (these are the people with the money) and between 90 and 97 one is an Arrivee (these are the people with both the money and the decisional power). Beyond 97 there are the Holies the ones who supposedly really get laid. The HDI itself is calculated on some factors that are the basis of the World Union, mainly the ability to be wealthy and to grow even more wealthy. The wealthier you are the most important you become (and the more money you make consequently). It's as simple as that. Greed and selfishness are the true motors of the society, love and any kind of family affection -- so common with Rogue Staters -- are considered as serious psychological flaws (worth of a trip to a Rehab center), children are raised outside of any family in special schools that have the purpose of making them as greedy and selfish as possible so they can progress in the world. Sex is entertainment and the only viable way to do it in the World Union is to do it with as many people as possible as much time as possible. Romantic affection is not frowned upon because it simply doesn't exists at all. It is considered to be such a grotesque aberration that no one thinks about engaging in more than a series of "no string attached" nights of sex.

 

 

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When it comes to the famous HDI (or rather how much a human is worth index) the creepy part is to learn from Phoenix herself that her fairly low (72) HDI is still better than 80% of the World Union population. Which means that the really rich and powerful people represent just a fragment of the Union... Finally whatever the system is, some things never change.

 

Some could say the World Union is an Utopia... An Utopia completely flawed.

As a matter of fact, when one starts progressing through the game and if one keeps an alert mind and reads everything available around, one quickly realizes that there's something wrong in the picture and one wonders how a society like this could even exist. The answer is pretty simple... it cannot, not for a long time anyway. It takes not long to figure out that the society one has under the eyes, so quiet, so calm, where everyone seems to live an happy life and to enjoy themselves a lot is actually dying... if not already dead.

Of course by now you would have understood that the adventure the player pursue in the game itself is the narration of the beginning of the end for the World Union. And I prefer to tell you right there that a lot of questions remain unanswered when one reaches the end... That is normal, the developers are working on the second opus that will go further into the story.

 

 

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Living in Hollywood

Developers tried to make the World Union as life like as possible by implementing some elements that have nothing to do with the investigation but contribute in a way to better understand the basically rotten state of this society which is on the verge of disintegrating. There just think a moment about the good old Hollywood Stardom cliché as built by the media during the worst waves of tabloid delirium. Got it? The World Union is just like that. Well minus drugs and alcohol because those are prohibited in the Union, but the rest is there. So periodically you'll have (it's not even a choice) to hang out at night with your "best friend" Sandra, the typical gossipy girl with the typical gossipy mind being interested in money, sex, fashion and sex and money and fashion and... well, did I mention sex? At that point you start to ask how persons with an IQ of more than 110 can be that fundamentally stupid. Sandra is a typical example of the problem; with an IQ of 117 (around 100 you're average, over 120 you have a genius potential) you would think that she would have other things to discuss but nooo... With her potential she could be in sciences but she works as a public relation. Another example is a character you encounter later in the game that has probably the highest IQ of the characters you meet with 154 and he's working as... a personal image maker!

No wonder why no Union scientist was able to determine that the sun will go BOOM in a 1000 years (you learn that right at the beginning of the game) these people are not just dumb... they are brain dead which is far more frightening. And they owe that to the society they are living in, their "almighty" Union. IQ is not a measure of intelligence, just of potential. One can always have a high IQ and be as stupid as one can get because no one forces to use this potential. And in this society so proud of what they call "scientific living" oddly enough no one cares about using their potential... or just thinking by themselves for that matter. Well almost no one but that is part of the storyline that I should not approach because I would hit spoilers.

In any way, Phoenix sums up the current state of her society fairly well at one point stating: "Understanding our universe? I don't think there is any economic sense in that. What's the point?". And there one feels almost compelled to shout at the screen "Oh, I don't know... What about preventing humanity from being destroyed? Airhead!"

But the real point of the World Union comes when one realizes that it is only a satire of our own already existing society. The writer (since the game is based on a novel) just basically took all the bad points of our society (greed, selfishness, superficiality, endless gossips... and so on) and just amplified them to the worst while dropping just about all of the good points. That certainly makes for an interesting reflexion on what we could become if we pushed it too far (and I'm afraid that we're already on the right track).

 

 

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Phoenix Wallis: The puzzling factor

Some people might say (in fact some people did) that I'm unfair to Phoenix Wallis, the main character of Culpa Innata describing her as an "airhead" and such. The fact is, they are right. it's just that the game presents an Union so blatantly stupid in most respects that I easily forgot the special points about Phoenix so I will go right on into further details.

Phoenix is kind of puzzling in that way that she is a Peace Officer of the GPSN responsible for the safety and the respect of the constitution of the World Union but in the same time she has many doubts (on a subconscious level obviously) about the society she has sworn to defend. One could say that unlike her compatriots she may be a little dumb on the edges but not completely brain fried which is good for her. For example, the girl has only one sexual partner while most women of her age have more partners in a week than Liz Taylor had husbands in her life. And she doesn't express the urge to find another one which could be interpreted as an anti-social behavior within the Union. Anyway she find that sex is not great and attributes that lack of enjoyment to a problem with herself. The fact is that she's never been in love and that explains why sex appears to her not what it could be. She knows that intuitively but on a conscious level she's so full of her almighty Union that she has trouble pinpointing what the exact problem is. She also have troubling dreams about her past. She was very young then but she was there when the Eastern Bloodbath took place ravaging her city just before the Union Army arrives to save the day and the creation of the World Union. But like most people who survived the Eastern Bloodbath she weirdly isn't able to recollect any event of this period. Her dreams however tell of another story...

There it is... I won't say anymore about Phoenix because that would be clear spoilers. Nevertheless she's a girl balanced between her love and loyalty to the Union and a series of doubts that slowly surface. And here I'm hoping that sheds a better light on her character.


Talking, chatting, talking...

Phoenix is leading an investigation about a murder so one spends a very large part of the time talking to other characters. These conversations may be fun or boring but whatever the case, one has to interrogate each character at least twice and most possibly thrice before getting any kind of useful info regarding the case (one knows when one hits such information because of the little tune that is played as the plot thickens). The problem is, Culpa Innata features some kind of arbitrarily decided day/night cycle and one is limited as to the number of people one may interrogate in one day. More often than not, interrogating someone for the first time will exhaust the whole day and one has to wait the next day to continue the investigation. Nevertheless -- and despite the constant irritation that these frequent interruptions present -- the day/night cycle is not only there to be pretty but because some characters may only be interviewed at night and some places may only be investigated the same.

Main words that you will hear a lot during the conversations: sex, sexual partners and a whole bunch of stuff based around these. So does one see any people nude in game? Not even a bit. The closer you are of it is Phoenix in underwear (and only if you choose the good option at one point). Does it have juicy vocal description of sexual acts? Not even that. nevertheless the title is rated Mature both in North America and in Europe and I don't complain since it is always good to protect the youth from a society as incredibly stupid as the one depicted as the World Union... that alone is enough for me to warrant the Mature tag.

 

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A free gameplay?

The promoted twist of Culpa Innata when it comes to gameplay is that it is supposedly open which is kind of a new twist in the adventure genre. In fact different people may actually play the game and experience different events, puzzles and even go to different places depending on the conversation choices they make and the time they take to proceed with their investigation. Some players may have a task at hand abruptly ended by a sudden phone call while others will be free to complete the said task.

On a second look though (when one plays the game a second time) one finds that this doesn't change things a lot. Yes the gameplay is open ended but things could have been pushed a lot further than they actually are. As it is, there are so many story blockers (key points that developers put in the game so the player can't reach some parts of the story before the time has come in order to not disturb too much the storyline) that "open gameplay" doesn't mean a lot. So basically, even though a limited open gameplay is there, it's not that much more open than the old Tex Murphy's series -- for those who played these in the good old times.

 

 

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Flooding puzzles

This is an adventure game after all, so there are puzzle. These come in different flavors from the basic "you're kidding me" kind to some more complex that will leave you perplexed... for a time. There are also some weird references to some movies so for example, people who remember Joshua from the movie Wargames might be favored for one of the puzzle compared to those who never saw it. Fortunately not all the puzzles rely on external references. The main reproach that can be done to them is that for a lot of them there's no hint of any kind as for how to solve them and in some cases you're just reduced to series of trial and errors until that works... And that will, eventually; Heck even me I've solved the damn thing without relying on a walkthrough. This is not impossible but it may be time consuming.

 

 

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It is to be noted too that the duties of Phoenix Wallis as a GPSN officer also include what is called "security screening". What is a security screening? In the game, it's a mini puzzle in itself. In the World Union Universe, it represents the final test to determine if an applicant for immigration to the Union does or doesn't pose a security threat. During the game, your main investigation will be interrupted three times so you may return to the GPSN HQ to conduct one of these security screenings. The process is plain an simple, you have at your disposal the hi-tech equivalent of a lie detector and you have to ask questions to the applicants. I won't give any spoiler there but it's your job to ask the good questions to determine if the applicant pose or not a security threat. If you do your job well it is noted for your final evaluation (at the end of the game) and if you don't do it well, it is noted as well, in a bad way -- meaning you loose points in your final HDI evaluation score. But hey, the first time I played doing things probably in reverse order without knowing at times where I was going exactly, I finished with a score of 94 (they just forgot to give the corresponding amount money, bast...ds). On the second play through although I made it quick and as smooth as possible I just got 95 (which from a HDI point of view as stated in the game double my value compared to 94 but from a score point of view is just +1). So I really don't know on what they base their famous evaluation... Ah, whatever...

 

 

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Loosing the game? You can!

Well, it's not in every adventure game that one may loose. Generally either one goes until the end of the story and solve the mystery or one doesn't, period. In Culpa Innata, Phoenix Wallis, the character incarnated by the player, may actually loose in some way. She won't die or anything (this is not the kind of game where you die) but she has competition. Julio, another young GPSN officer has been assigned to the case as well and is supposed to be at her orders but the greed and selfishness of the World Union helping, he has teeth so long that he could scratch the floor just walking. So his goal is to solve the case before Phoenix and if one doesn't come with the good decisions with the good timing he may very well succeed. The final result is that Phoenix fails her evaluation, finds herself stuck at her rank in the hierarchy, won't participate in any future important investigation and is covered with slimy shame. In two words "YOU LOOSE".

 

 

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Technically speaking

Despite the fact that the game in the version currently available is bug free (at least I didn't encounter any) some technical choices may seem weird. The biggest problem is that the game even though in full 3D is limited to 2 screens resolutions only (like the good ol' Anachronox in its time) a HI one and a LOW one. Without any surprise, the LOW resolution come at 800x600 pixels. The HI one however comes at 1024x768 pixels and one can't go over. Curious choice in a time where most gamers are equipped with LCD screens with a native resolution of at least 1280x1024. If you're playing with native LCD resolution of 1280x1024 the difference won't be that big but if you're playing with a 24" LCD chances are that you will find yourself with a game resembling to a bunch of blocky pixels. Asked about the weird choice, the developers answer that it was made in the early stage of the development a pretty long time ago when 1024x768 was a standard for most gamers and that it couldn't be changed after that due to engine limitations. According to them the real culprit was the delay needed to find a publisher for the game in order to get it out. Normally Culpa Innata should have been released 2 years ago. Still, the choice remains weird. There is the possibility to "trick" the game to make it play in a window instead of full screen which makes it up for the blocky pixel on large LCD screens, but in this case, forget about the immersion.

 

 

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For the good stuff, the developers have opted for photo realistic faces for the main characters (the ones pertaining to the investigation). So the faces of the people one encounters in game are based on real photographs of real people that were reworked after that to adapt them to the game environment. Without being a reason to drop dead on the floor in delight, the end result is satisfying enough especially for the characters one is prone to see the most. A great effort has been also made on facial expressions with moving eyebrows, near flawless lip-sync and for women different makeup styles at different moments of the game and day (well for those who love the "paint bucket" styled makeup which is not my case). All in all the facial technical work put in this game is one of the best I've witnessed yet... Below on the left there is an intermediate drawing from a photo of the girl (don't ask for her number, I'm not a dating agency) who served as a basis for Phoenix Wallis (on the right). It's kind of more convincing in game though...

 

 

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Too bad that the same attention to detail wasn't paid in other graphical areas. General graphics are not bad, they're just average and the developers decided to superpose to the screen some kind of granular noise (barely noticeable) with a purpose that is hard to guess.

The voice over is there without anything special about it. It is mostly OK for the main characters, passable for others.

 

 

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So what? Worth playing?

Culpa Innata is the kind of game one may only have mixed feelings about. At least I do. Would I recommend this game as a must have? Definitely not. Would I recommend to dump it in the nearest trash can? Definitely not either. The fact is that the game is enjoyable as long as you are able to deal with the irritating stuff like the constant gossips with Sandra, the sometimes completely dumb reflexions of Phoenix and the fact that you must go through her wardrobe to change clothes each time you want to go out at night (but well that part may actually please female gamers, what do I know?) all of this making you feel like if you were playing an adventure version of The Sims (the reason why my annoyance rating is unusually high for this game). But then again, it is a necessary evil in order to better understand what the World Union is really about. Understanding how dumb this society is is the key to understanding the rest of the plot which is far more extended than just a murder.

The story in itself is interesting and presents a colorful and somewhat acid satire (acid being a normal component for a satire after all) of our own society with all the bad sides multiplied by one thousand. It also has the advantage to integrate a series of weird events and mysteries that really makes you want to know more. The only drawback when it come to the story is that the end leaves you with more questions than answers and you just have to wait for the next opus for that (hoping that they will erase the flaws this time).

 

 

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For once the pros nearly balance the cons in this title so it's up to you to see if you want to spend the $20 for it. Will you feel like being ripped from your hard earn money? I didn't feel that way, because for me the story more than compensate for the little irritating things around (plus I don't have a super huge LCD screen to contemplate the catastrophe that a 1024x768 title may be on a 24" screen).

 

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Review summary 7/10
Pros Cons
Intriguing story thats makes one wants to know more including a solid plot with some surprising twists that leaves hungry once the game is over
*
A nice attempt to implement free play in an adventure game even though it could have been pushed further
*
A special mention for the work on faces that is much better than in most other games even recent ones

Some irritating moments, people and comments that make one wants to scream out loud even if they are there for the sake of the story and to better understand the state of the Union
*
Some puzzle interface are not highly practical (Phoenix computer for example) and several puzzles coming with no clue have some kind of weird logic that make you solve them by trial and error rather than real thinking
*
Weird technical choice of only 2 screen resolutions with the highest one being unsuitable for LCDs beyond 19''