Culpa Innata is a period in Earth's history between 2025 and 2052, characterized by an attempt to create a New World Order. In the World Union, all traces of traditional culture are ruthlessly eliminated - family structure is dismantled, sentiment and altruism are treated with contempt, and ethnic identities are stripped away. In exchange, World Union citizens are promised lives of safety, convenience, and material comfort.

Who is Phoenix Wallis?

There are still areas of the globe that have not joined the World Union - parts of Asia, for instance (called "Rogue States" by World Union citizens). Immigrants from these parts of the world are streaming to the World Union. Our heroine, Phoenix Wallis, is a Peace Officer employed by the Global Peace and Security Network (GPSN). She works with the immigrants, testing them to see if they will qualify for citizenship.

After a mysterious introduction, the game takes you to a not-so-usual day in the life of Phoenix, who has just been given authority to investigate the murder of Vassily Bogdanov, World Union citizen and owner of The Thing Store (where people buy chic, frivolous things). Since murders simply don't happen in the peaceful World Union, Phoenix is relieved to learn that the murder took place in a Rogue State: Russia.

This is Phoenix's first murder investigation. It is her job to discover the reason Bogdanov was traveling in Russia, and (without actually visiting the scene of the crime) to come up with a theory as to who killed Bogdanov, and why.

Brave New World meets Law & Order

This is a third person, point-and-click 3D adventure, and I've been playing a beta version for several hours. So far, Culpa Innata is an old-fashioned detective mystery in a new-fangled, eccentric universe.

The first thing that strikes the gamer is culture shock. The World Union is one of the most fiercely structured places imaginable (for instance, every person's ranking in Human Development is posted in his/her home and office). Rules of behavior are clearly delineated, and each job has strict guidelines.

Countering this cultural rigidity is a focus on the pursuit of wealth and the practice of selfishness. Advertising is absolutely everywhere, with ad posters admired as works of art in people's apartments. Television studios contribute to universities so they can hawk lifetime soap opera subscriptions to students. In the Childhood Development Center, a child's drawing has a square in the middle that says Your Ad Here.

The world of Culpa Innata is colorful, glamorous, well-realized and expansive. It is also highly imaginative.

Gameplay so far has consisted of inventory challenges (amazing what can be done with the contents of a makeup bag), plus observational and patterning challenges. You also use Phoenix's computer to analyze clues. And you select questions from a menu to elicit information from witnesses (this aspect of the game reminds me of the Law & Order games.) Challenges sometimes require more trial-and-error experimentation than I like, but the game balances this trend by giving you clues through conversations, through Phoenix's comments, and through her diary.

Phoenix will only do a certain amount of work in a typical day (working overtime is discouraged by the GPSN). This adds an extra layer of challenge as you try to select the most important witnesses to interview each day. You are allowed only a certain number of questions before an interview ends. If you haven't managed to get the information that you need, you must return the next day to re-interview the witness.

With Friends Like These

The characters in Culpa Innata are an oddball lot who add a touch of spice to the adventure. The language is also sometimes spicy (apparently there's no Rule in the World Union against obscenity). It is a sign of maturity in the World Union to discuss sexual matters with complete frankness, and this topic surfaces frequently during Phoenix's investigations. In addition, the game contains nudity and graphic sexual content; it is clearly aimed at a mature audience.

Although Phoenix rarely questions the ethos of her brave new world, she is beginning to see examples of contradictions. Our heroine's behavior is alternately endearing and arrogant, she is struggling to conduct a murder investigation for which she has little training, and she is trying to forget horrific moments in her past.

Other characters include Phoenix's dour, dogmatic boss, her handsome, hyper competitive co-worker, a ghost-like janitor who claims to be a general, and a Thing artist with a French name and a bad southern accent. There's another character Alessandra Pescara -- who is a sarcastic, bigoted, gold digging, salty-tongued party animal. No, she's not the villain in Culpa Innata, she's Phoenix's best friend, and she tends to "steal the show."

The Downsides

Culpa Innata starts slowly. Partly this is due to the gamer's adjustment to this new universe which, though internally consistent, is still unexpected. Partly it's because the game features so much dialog with quirky, oddly-named characters that it starts to feel like a Russian novel. But largely it's due to the game's interface.

Although the game has a point-and-click interface, I found moving Phoenix around to be a chore. There are no directional arrows to indicate areas that should be explored; in addition, double-clicking to cause Phoenix to run doesn't always work. There were times when I double-clicked repeatedly, only to see Phoenix move a step or two with each double-click. This is not so much a problem in smaller spaces (such as apartments and offices) but it is a significant problem in larger spaces, and it makes exploring the game's grand environments less engaging than it should be.

I experienced a sound level glitch, plus a handful of other minor glitches in the game (not uncommon in a beta version). I'm assuming that these -- and perhaps the larger movement issues -- will be fixed in the final version that ships to gamers.

What Will the Future Hold?

There are secrets within secrets whispering below the surface of Phoenix's beloved World Union. There's an excellent chance that the murder she is investigating will strip away the protective gloss that makes life there seem calm and secure. The story in Culpa Innata has thoroughly hooked me, and I'm looking forward to following Phoenix as she delves into murder and discovers what lurks behind the pleasant facade of her utopian world.

Would you like to learn more about Culpa Innata? Check out the full review by nickie.