Reviewed: November 23, 2007
Released: October 19, 2007
Set in the year 2047 AD, in the futuristic utopian society of Adrianopolis in Eastern Europe, Instanbul-based Momentum AS’s Culpa Innata (Latin for “innate sin”) is a 3D adventure game following the investigations of World Union peace officer Phoenix Wallis.
Playing as Phoenix, you have been assigned the mission of unraveling the circumstances surrounding the murder of a fellow World Union member in the Rogue State of Russia in order to bring the murderer to justice. As is often the case, however, this murder mystery is more than it seems, and as your investigation continues, you begin to encounter strange events that gradually shake the foundations of Phoenix’s idealistic worldview.
Culpa Innata, inspired by Turkish author Alev Alatli’s opus Schrödinger’s Cat, introduces the player to an oppressively structured, selfish world of the fictional near future, somewhat reminiscent of that described in classic science fiction novels like Brave New World. The game inundates the player with numerous details about Phoenix’s world – more on that in a bit – and makes it clear that the developers intended to give Adrianopolis a rich history and culture.
Fortunately, navigation and gameplay in Culpa Innata is intuitive and simple, if nothing new to the genre of adventure gaming. Just as with most similar games, moving Phoenix around in her atmospheric urban surroundings is as simple as pointing and clicking with your mouse. The left mouse button is used for all movement and interaction on-screen, while the right button opens the entire game menu (otherwise known as Phoenix’s Personal Assistant device), which includes the inventory, navigation map, journal, and game options submenus.
Item collection and usage – those hallmark activities of an adventure game – are simple and straightforward, using the same point-and-click interface. Any object, location, or character of interest to Phoenix can easily be identified, as the mouse cursor will change to an appropriate icon (such as a magnifying glass or a question mark) if interactions are available. Accordingly, the appropriate interaction, whether it’s initiating conversation or snapping a photograph for your records, is also accomplished by a click of the left mouse button.
Unfortunately, despite promising beginnings, there are a lot of aspects of Culpa Innata that could use some tuning up.
For instance, the improbably fantastical nature of Culpa Innata's concept is perhaps thought provoking and interesting at first, but it quickly becomes stale and overdone. From Phoenix’s astoundingly naïve and petty internal monologue to conversation after conversation with other characters invariably focused on the sordid details of everyone’s sexual habits, what could have been an immersive and intriguing game world soon becomes trite and flat. Perhaps the force-fed nature of the information is meant to be a taste of the brainwashing propaganda used on World Union citizens, but it’s still a bit much.
Speaking of dialogue, Culpa Innata attempts to bring some non-linearity into the game by allowing players to choose from a number of different dialogue branches at various points while interrogating characters. Sometimes it’s easy to tell which dialogue options aren’t useful to the investigation so that you can avoid them, but at other times, it’s either impossible to tell (since Phoenix often approaches questions in an unexpected way, or the options available sound too similar) or you’re forced to choose between two dialogue choices that you know are both inane.
On one hand, perhaps this experience more realistically reflects the frustrations of real-life questioning of suspects, but on the other hand, it’s annoying to be unable to strategize dialogue options in a game that’s been designed for the players’ entertainment. Worse yet, Phoenix can only ask each person a certain number of questions per day due to World Union regulations, and the game doesn’t progress if you don’t ask the right questions, so conversation quickly bogs down the game’s overall pace.
The puzzles scattered throughout the game, at least, are mostly decent, and they run the entire gamut: there are some extremely simple puzzles, a few satisfyingly challenging brain teasers, as well as a number of exasperatingly random ones. Unfortunately, though, some of the better puzzles (such as the circuit board puzzle) are sabotaged by low screen resolution or clumsy design making them difficult to complete, despite a good puzzle concept.
The involved storyline, too, eventually reveals some interesting aspects, especially with the promise of multiple endings depending on player choices, but the bothersome flaws mentioned earlier – as well as some path-finding glitches that make the large amount of footwork an occasional pain – tend to dampen the experience.
Overall, I’d like to laud the developer’s attempt at injecting some novelty and non-linearity into the stagnating adventure genre, but despite good intentions, Culpa Innata sadly falls a bit flat of its lofty goals.
Generally, the graphics are mediocre. Screen resolution can only be set at a maximum of 1024 x 768 pixels, which is not high by today’s standards, and the textures and models appear somewhat dated and grainy, even with anti-aliasing turned on.
The game environment is fully modeled in 3D, if mostly static, and the design and large scale of the city serve to create an appropriate feeling of sterility and subjugation, but Adrianopolis also appears to be strangely devoid of human life.
Culpa Innata boasts its use of Momentum AS’s patented real-time facial animation technology: instead of using pre-rendered facial movements, character expressions and speech movements are rendered on the fly. The results, however, aren’t perfect; only some parts of the characters’ faces move with changing expressions, at times creating some rather uncanny facial movements. Most other character animations, though, are natural enough to pass muster.
Perhaps Culpa Innata's most impressive feature is that it’s fully voiced over, even with so many dialogue options being available during the course of the game. Even Phoenix’s comments on various items and her own internal musings have been fully recorded in audible form. The voice acting, however, ranges from acceptable to grating. It’s fortunate that Phoenix herself isn’t so bad, but some of the supporting cast members sound deadpan and awkwardly forced as they hesitate painfully over the less-than-stellar script.
The often-creepy soundtrack at least does an effective job of setting the mood for Adrianopolis, and as with the voice acting, it’s a mixed bag: some segments are agreeably atmospheric, while others are annoyingly jangly. The tracks tend to be very short, however, resulting in very repetitive ambient music that, no matter how well composed, becomes less pleasant after the nth loop.
In all, Culpa Innata's sound is inconsistent in quality and averages out to be just about middling.
At the reasonable price of $29.99, despite its problems, Culpa Innata isn’t a bad value for someone who will enjoy the game, as its non-linearity create an incentive for players to replay the game many times. There are multiple endings available, opportunities to change Phoenix’s endgame Human Development Index (the World Union’s way of arranging its citizens into a kind of caste system), as well as many branches of dialogue to explore.
It is, for instance, possible to fail Phoenix’s assignment if you take too long to investigate, and some players may want to challenge themselves to complete the investigation as quickly as possible. Still, Culpa Innata's replayability will ultimately depend on whether you enjoy the game enough to be willing to brave the many repetitive conversations all over again.
Culpa Innata attempts some level of innovation in the adventure game genre, which is better than what can be said for some other similar games, but it does have its fair share of problems. Truth to be told, though, Culpa Innata is certainly a playable title, and given the state of adventure gaming, gamers who generally like games of the mystery/adventure variety may find Culpa Innata to be at least on par with other games of its ilk and find it an enjoyable experience.