What’s your world vision?
In what appears to be the middle of the solar system, a man is giving a lecture to children about the dangers facing Earth. The future is 3000 AD and the earth’s atmosphere is heating up beyond what was expected. The planet is dying….burning up from the sun. An incredible and seemingly impossible feat of science will be necessary to save Earth. Hmmm…..sound familiar? Global warming?
The scene quickly switches to graduation day at the Immigration Academy of the New World Order. A rousing and downright creepy commencement speech is taking place spouting that the most selfish, determined, strongest, intelligent and wealthy shall inherit the world. It ends with chanting of those same mantras. My initial thoughts are “Freaky Cult Central”.
Adrianopolis - 2047 A.D.
The World Union was created as a way of bringing together only the best people that the world has to offer…a kind of un-natural selection. The World Union promises an environment that is crime-free, religion-free, technologically superior and offers great prosperity to those who seek it providing their worth meets the World Union standards. A citizen’s status in the Union is determined by their worth (credibility) and they are assigned numbers (Human Development Index) designating such based upon their knowledge, education, work experience, health status, future worth and accumulated wealth. Increasing one’s HDI will also increase their status in the Union. All countries which are not part of the World Union are considered to be Rogue States. Those wishing to immigrate to the World Union must endure vigorous training (brain-washing?…sorry…couldn’t help myself) in the Immigration Academy which is where our story begins.
You will be playing as Phoenix, an officer with the Global Peace and Security Network (GPSN). The GPSN is in charge of maintaining law & order in the Union and is housed in the same building as the Immigration Academy. Gameplay begins in Phoenix’s office. A quick check around the office and Phoenix realizes her PA (Personal Assistant) is missing. But, there’s no time to look for it just yet. An urgent request comes in from Chief Dagmar Morssen. Phoenix heads over to the office only to learn that a World Union citizen has been murdered in one of the Rogue states. As a Senior Officer, Phoenix has been chosen to lead the investigation from the Adrianopolis side. While another officer, Julio (a back-stabbing little weasel) has been assigned to help her, don’t expect much more than sarcastic emails from him. Her first task is to locate her PA and then it’s off to the heart of Adrianopolis to solve the case.
Culpa Innata is a 3rd person adventure that comes complete on 1 DVD-Rom. It did seem to take quite a long time for the initial installation to begin loading. But, the rest of the installation went quickly and the game is able to be played without use of the DVD in the drive. Gotta love that. Initially, I tried running the game on my laptop, but not having a independent graphics card had the graphics looking extremely choppy. So, it’s important that your computer meets the minimum system requirements. I ended up playing on my desktop with no problem.
If you’re going to play Culpa Innata, you better like chatting it up with the NPC’s because you will be doing a hell of a lot of it. This game has a lot of dialog. Interviewing civilians and suspects is Phoenix’s primary mode of investigation. What is perhaps the most impressive and something we haven’t seen in quite a while is the amount of dialog choices presented. And, these choices actually make a difference in the game. When presented with a citizen to interview, you will have options available as to which questions to ask. Ask the correct one and maybe you’ll finish with this witness in only two interview sessions. Pick the wrong one and you may end up interviewing this person many, many times. Tactics that I thought would be appropriate to the interviewee apparently weren’t. And, there are many levels in the dialog trees. So, you technically could make a good decision on the first level and screw it up on the next one. I personally can attest to the multiple interviews as I always seemed to go the wrong direction. I guess that’s why I’m playing a game instead of joining the police force. Another factor to add into the mix is the amount of time you can spend interviewing a citizen. A peace officer can not infringe excessively on a citizen’s time, so even if you haven’t finished, Phoenix will end the interview and have to return on another day. Each citizen that you interview has important information to share. This information can lead you to another citizen or open up a new location to explore. But, again, the line of questioning you take will make a difference.
Another part of the game where choosing correctly is essential is during the security interviews. It is Phoenix’s job to question Novices (those immigrants who have completed the academy training) and either approve or deny citizenship in the World Union. Phoenix is armed with her questions and a computer that will analyze the interviewee’s responses similar to that of a lie detector machine. I found myself doing a lot of pondering during this game. For example, after I approved someone for citizenship that I most certainly did not like, I went back and replayed the interview a few times until I found what I was looking for……a most definite reason NOT to approve. I found something my initial line of questioning had not revealed, nor my 2nd line either. Seeing as how I am playing as Phoenix, a security interview essentially is being conducted by a person who is insufficiently trained to do so. How often does that happen in the world we live in? I’m sure too many to count.
Phoenix may not be the most experienced officer; in fact she seems to be quite naïve on multiple matters. Having been raised entirely in the World Union, she tends not to understand slang phrases or certain concepts such as marriage or relationships in general. This is a slight hindrance in her investigative skills. But, this is not her fault. The raising of a child is done completely by the World Union, not the parents. So, she would only learn what is taught to her as acceptable in the Union. Towards the end of the game, you can see Phoenix beginning to question certain aspects of the world union in a subtle way, effectively portraying her dedication as an officer and her attempt to adhere strictly to the rules, but also showing the emerging signs of someone who is not meant to blindly follow.
Not everything in the World Union is about investigating the case at hand. There is a hint of SIMS blended in the game as well. You can go to Phoenix’s apartment at any time and watch a little television. While Phoenix is automatically dressed in her uniform during the day, you can choose what she will wear for evening excursions. And, there are the evening chat sessions with Phoenix’s best friend Sandra. I could have done without those. Honestly, it seemed like she wanted to meet every night for a while and no option to decline. I was wondering if she had other friends she could hang out with. Sandra has a limited scope of conversation ranging from sex to derogatory comments about immigrants to sex again. In fact, sex (accepted in the Union in only the casual form) tends to be a regular focus throughout the Union and pops up even in the interviewing process. You won’t see anything, but you sure will hear about it a lot.
Culpa Innata is almost completely non-linear. You can leap to any available location using the map loaded on Phoenix’s PA…..that is, once you’ve found it. It’s one of the initial tasks in the game. As you progress through the game, more locations are added.
Although the game is non-linear, timing is important. You move through the game based upon real-time. Phoenix will only do so much during the workday before she decides it’s time to go home. You won’t have any choice as to when she quits for the day so it is essential to plan your route using the map to maximize time. Obviously, jumping back and forth between more distant points on the map will take up more time. Some locations such as the Business District or The Pyramid allow Phoenix to walk up and down the streets as there are clues hidden everywhere. Other locations confine you to a specific office or room.
When moving around within rooms or out on the street, directional arrows are provided to help you navigate your surroundings. However, the directional arrows could be a bit confusing at times and did not always send you where you think you should be going. Camera angles had a lot to do with this and could be a little disorienting as to which direction you were currently facing. But, once you’ve worked an area for a while, you get used to the quirks and should not have a problem. This area should, however, be refined a bit in the future. A question mark denotes items in the environment that can be examined. If they can be further manipulated, a magnifying glass will replace the question mark.
The PA (which is always attached to your ear) is your biggest resource. In the game, Phoenix will view her PA as a holographic image appearing before her. She interacts with her PA via voice commands. You, as the player, will see the PA as a blue, tabbed screen. The PA houses Phoenix’s contact list for calls, her inventory of collected items, a diary where she details her progress and game controls where you can save, load, exit, or adjust volumes/graphic quality. Inventory items can be further manipulated within the inventory screen. The inventory interface is by no means my favorite only because you must make multiple clicks in order to use an item: right click to access inventory, left click to select an item and left click on gear icon to activate it for use. If you choose wrong, you must repeat these steps all over again. Not a deal breaker by any means…just not the best.
Momentum has spent a great deal of effort on their patented facial animation technology. Well, this was money and time well spent. A couple of times, it looked as though the characters would pop right off the screen. Gorgeous….simply gorgeous. And, you’ll deal with all types of characters in this game: the ditz, the flake, the moron, the rudeness personified, and the shady. Here and there, they’ll throw in somebody normal to mix it up a bit. Some will downright frustrate you and you’ll wish you could pop them in the head just once….or twice (ok, maybe a full fledged virtual beating for those special few like the ditz at The Thing Store or that witch who gave Phoenix a hideous makeover at Roger Arnett’s salon). The voices for Phoenix and Chief Morssen are really great and have the right inflections to make them believable. Roger Arnett and his annoying assistant were done equally as well whether you liked the voices or not.. A lesser quality is noticeable primarily when foreign accents are attempted for some of the NPCs. Sometimes it’s just a less natural inflection or pauses placed incorrectly that are apparent. Since the game is heavy on dialog, this may be a turn-off for some. For me personally, it was only minor as Phoenix has the overall majority of the dialog and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations and the dialog format.
While the background environments don’t match up to the stellar facial animation quality, they are fun and quite fascinating. There is a blend of old and new elements together in one environment. For example, the GPSN offices are housed in what looks like an old stone castle/monestary but the technology inside speaks of the future. There are pod like elevators, PA’s affixed to every ear, a more futuristic looking subway system and every outdoor area is much cleaner. There are no flying cars or anything like that. But, this would be cliché. It is a much more realistic representation of jumping ahead 30 years. The landscape has been maintained…..just updated. And, Momentum gives you lots of places to go and lots of things to examine within the environments. Not all are useful, but add to the gaming experience.
Puzzles are a mixture of dialog, logical and inventory. By far, the most numerous puzzles center around the dialog and piecing together small bits of information gleaned from interviews. But, you’ll also have all kinds of codes to figure out; a lot of which must be worked through on the computer. You’ll get to reconstruct video and images. You’ll also get a mental workout with a certain fuse puzzle. There are doors to unlock and a killer circuit puzzle. When’s the last time you had to figure out a Rubik’s Cube? Hope you remember, because you’ll be doing it again. All in all, a nice diverse set of puzzles all can enjoy.
Since Culpa Innata can be quite a long game (depending on your interviewing skills), it’s equally important to have a storyline that can maintain the player’s interest. Momentum does an outstanding job on this. They don’t dump the story on you all at once in big, enjoyment-sucking clumps. They feed it to you bit by bit in small doses throughout the entire game. They lead you along through multiple twist and turns. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say that there are a lot of layers to the story, it takes you in some surprising directions. And, it’s not all serious. There are some funny bits in there as well such as the “Al Bundy” shoe salesman, the “Thing Store” that sells (can it be???) things or just the crazy characters and amusing quips. Job Well Done!!
Now, for the negative. Shortly after releasing the game, Momentum released a patch in order to fix some bugs and crashes players were experiencing. I did play with the patch installed, but unfortunately, still experienced a few problems here and there. The worst was a crash after a tedious video reconstruction puzzle. I would place the last piece, see a crucial piece of evidence and bam…..crash to desktop. It occurred over and over and I was about to give up. But, I decided to see if visiting another location and then returning to the puzzle would fix it. It did and I was able to continue…..but a little unhappy about that bit; having to do the puzzle from the beginning each time it crashed. I also got stuck next to one of the “things” at the thing store. Just couldn’t seem to move Phoenix at all. Of course, I hadn’t saved in quite a bit (my bad) so I had to replay and avoid being near that “thing” again. The final glitch was getting stuck on stage at the Stardust club. That one was resolved with pure clicking perseverance. While these problems were sporadic, they do still exist within the game, patch or not.
Now, how do I determine a fair grade? This is difficult. Due to the story, puzzles, non-linear gameplay and dialog choices, Culpa Innata is hands-down my favorite game this year and I’d love to give it a solid A. Re-playability is a big factor as well. I know that there are a ton of things I missed because of my choices. I can see playing this game multiple times to see what changes. While having acknowledged issues that might bother other gamers, the only issues that really had any negative affect for me were the crashes/bugs and a slight irritation with the interface. However, bugs/crashes are my personal pet peeve. But, because the positives heavily outweigh the negatives, I have decided to still give the game a solid B. My hope is that another patch will be released to fix these issues as this is not a game to be missed. It is truly an experience we haven’t had in a long time. So, my suggestion is to absolutely get this game. Just be diligent about saving your games and you should be good to go.