Culpa Innata

I just finished a PC game called Culpa Innata.  I liked it, but it’s rather bizarre, and it isn’t exactly the adventure game it’s billed as.  It’s a police procedural, and though the mystery gets solved it’s really an excuse to build up and then deconstruct a utopian society.

You play Phoenix Wallis, police officer and loyal citizen of the World Union, who has a murder to solve in the year 2047 and only your mouse to do it with.

Phoenix on yet another intervew

Essentially you have to talk to people, gradually uncovering clues that lead to new people or locations to visit; there’s also a fair number of (generally not very difficult) puzzles to solve.  Most of the game, in fact, consists of interviews.  This starts out slow as (e.g.) you ask sales clerks about what kind of boss Mr. Bogdanov was, but eventually it picks up, as you get some solid clues.  The characters are varied but few really stand out (one that does is Bogdanov’s stylist). 

Movement is rather clunky… it’s a 3-D environment, yet mostly presented from static camera angles that snap you from one scene to another.  Memo to designers: never do that again

An odd little recurring activity is near-daily gossip sessions with Phoenix’s best friend Sandra.  As these recap events you just went through, they don’t add much except insight into Phoenix’s somewhat prissy personality.  Sandra is more lively than most of the characters, however, and I ended up following all the conversational paths. 

I like the fact that the game seems to take a feminine approach… there’s no violence; it’s highly story-oriented; Phoenix is usually kind to the interviewees and always shares her emotional reactions to things.  She also has a makeup kit whose pieces are used to solve several puzzles. 

My main complaint is that the non-linear structure wears thin, especially towards the end, when one event after another simply forces Phoenix into particular encounters.  There are a few side activities (including a large side quest designed to show up the failures of the World Union) but the game could have used more diversions and dead ends.  Phoenix can watch holovision, for instance, but after the first night (when an important clue is presented), it’s always the same show.  You never get to ask Sandra about her life, or shoot down your obnoxious junior colleage Julio.  At one point you go clothes shopping (your dowdy duds won’t get you into a fancy nightclub); but you don’t get to choose your outfit (and the outfit you get is hideous).

For a long time I was puzzled at the game’s politics.  The World Union isn’t exactly an Orwellian nightmare; it’s capitalist, peaceful, and obviously comfortable, though stiff and self-righteous.  The underlying philosophy seems to be Rand-libertarian (greed, selfishness, and ambition are praised; Phoenix’s police organization is a private company; there’s no taxation); but children are raised by teachers, sex is highly liberated, and there’s a lot of talk of NGOs which are a parody of various leftist causes.

The clue lies in the credits– most of the names are Turkish, and the game is a loose adaptation of a novel by a Turkish writer, Alev Alatlı.  Now it makes sense: the World Union is an outsider’s parody of the entire West: general prosperity and a careless dismissal of the rest of the world, American individualism and laissez-faire economics, European hostility to religion and violence.  Right-wing economics and left-wing do-gooders are thrown together because both have disproportionate influence outside the West.  In the game there’s a glimpse of Alatlı’s preoccupation with quantum physics and chaos theory; apparently in the novel she links these with an eccentric form of Turkish nationalism.