First posted on 25 June 2008. Last updated on 10 August 2009.
About the author
Francesco Cordella is the editor of L'avventura è l'avventura, an Italian game site for fans of adventure and interactive fiction.
For more information, visit L'avventura è l'avventura.
If I am to describe Culpa Innata with only a single word, that will be it—cold. Yes, I know, my critics who love this game so much will likely answer back with an immediate retort—hey, it 'must' be like that; it 'must' be cold. After all, this is a cyberpunk game set in a dystopian future, where everything is cold—most of all, the atmosphere.
Okay, but I still do not like this game. I prefer warm. By this, I mean I like a game capable of giving emotions, capable of touching the heart. Culpa Innata just does not have this effect on me.
Well, I do not doubt this is a good game. The Turkish developer Momentum AS has worked on Culpa Innata for over 2 years, and it can righteously feel satisfied with its (very) ambitious results. The developer has met the target. The question is whether the target is good enough.
Yes, something is indeed amiss in Culpa Innata. I will explain why.
The story of Culpa Innata is undeniably big, inspired in part by the works of Turkish sci-fi author Alev Alatli, Schrödinger's Cat. The year is 2047. You are Phoenix Wallis, an officer of peace and safety for the GPSN (Global Peace and Security Network) affiliated with the World Union. The world where Phoenix lives is a world under total authoritarian control: there are no crimes, no murders, no unemployment. In this world, only citizens who are most intelligent, most wealthy, and most healthy are valued. Outside of this world are the Rogue States, where crimes, murders, and unemployment exist as they are: unhindered. The citizens of the Rogue States who desire to be admitted to the World Union as immigrants must pass many exams and demonstrate their fitness—that is, they are cold enough, intelligent enough, and above all, egoistic enough (egoism is a trait valued in the World Union).
Yet, in this seemingly perfect world, there appears suddenly a crack: a World Union citizen has been found dead in his birthplace Russia, a Rogue State. There has not been a murder of a World Union citizen for 15 years, so the case is taken very seriously by the authority under watchful eyes. Phoenix's mission is to find out who the murderer is and to solve this case.
So, this is the scenario for Culpa Innata—a big story. Big story, but not great story. In fact, whatever is going to happen in the story is largely foreseeable from the beginning. You will discover that the other world, the dissident world, is better than your own perfect world. Such a theme is not new and has been recycled many times in sci-fi cyberpunk fiction. The moral of the story is: this world, the world of today, despite all its flaws, is not so bad. Having this said, Culpa Innata offers a very large plot filled with many surprises. It is also a nonlinear plot. This means that each choice you make (such as exploring a room rather than another, or choosing a response in a dialog rather than another) will have an effect to it and can lead you down a number of different paths in the game (though, to be clear, the main path is always the same).
Unlike other adventure games where puzzles are solved linearly room by room, location by location, such that a map is largely useless or inexistent at all, Culpa Innata has a map is large and open. You can use it to explore the many puzzles that are open to be solved at any given time. This is good, because having a real map improves the adventuring. This is an adventure game, after all.
Culpa Innata is a 3D third-person point-and-click adventure. The game supports a resolution up to 1024x768 pixels. It boasts a Momentum-patented 3D facial animation technology that supposedly renders character expressions during speech in real time. Dynamic cameras are also used for additional cinematic effects. All these add up to a game that is nice to see, but bad to explore. The 3D visuals are not at all well implemented, so it is easy to get lost in a room while trying to find an object or locate an exit. The visual cues are simply confusing. They do not help the player; they are a puzzle by themselves. The end result is that they slow down the game a lot. There also does not exist any function (such as double clicking) in the game that can instantly teleport your character from a corner of a room to another. Fortunately, you can easily jump between different locations by opening up the map in your Personal Assistant (PA). The PA is a device that is the heart of much of the gameplay in Culpa Innata. You can open it by right clicking the mouse. From there, you can access the map, the inventory, the telephone, the postbox, the diary, and a number of other functions. The PA is very useful, very helpful, and well implemented (though I prefer to have the inventory fixed on the main screen). The remaining controls are simple: left clicking to walk or to perform an action.
To solve the mystery, you have to talk with other characters, find objects, and explore locations. You will meet a large cast of characters, from the stupid salesman, to the gruff lawyer, to the shady criminal. Be prepared to talk. A lot. Yet, you are only allowed to ask a character a limited number of questions each time before the conversation is cut off (so not to violate a World Union rule that dictates this). You must choose your responses carefully, since you can engage each character only once a day. Moreover, as time lapses and evening approaches, Phoenix will grow too tired to continue for the day and must retire until the next morning. Having this said, this is an investigation, so you will need to waive through tons of dialogs from everyone you choose to interrogate. Moreover, you are obliged to listen to every single word in the conversation. Yes, it is impossible to fast forward the dialogs, and you cannot choose to simply read the subtitles and skip over the voiceovers. No, you have to wait! It is a big flaw, I think. On the other hand, the dialogs are very well written: they are realistic and never unconvincing. It is just a shame that they are so long!
The game is filled with logic puzzles: cubes to manipulate, buttons to push, and pictures to reconstruct. In Culpa Innata, you will not find any "find a key, unlock a door" clichéd type puzzles. The prize to pay is that you must endure puzzles that frequently involve a lot of trial and error. Perhaps as an in-game joke, you will also find this kind of puzzles playable on the PC in Phoenix's office, which you normally use to manage your clues, compare images, and decipher texts in your investigation.
Personally, I prefer inventory based puzzles. Sadly, you will not find any such puzzles in Culpa Innata. If you like brain teasing enigmas, you will welcome the challenge provided by this game. For me, I find them incredibly frustrating, because I do not enjoy spending endless hours trying to find the right sequence of colors. I think this kind of puzzle breaks the atmosphere of the game and kills the charm which it tries so hard to build.
In conclusion, I have no doubt that Culpa Innata is a stunning game—solid plot, memorable characters, many locales, and good writing. The game looks indeed very polished, and it is clear that the developer has taken great care to address every detail. Yet, I have not found the game captivating. Stunning perhaps, but not captivating. I do not feel the drive to solve the mystery, nor do I feel that I have fallen in love with Phoenix (and she has not for me, of course) as a character. The reason, maybe, is that Culpa Innata is just dispersive, not charming, and ends rather unimpressively.