metzomagic.com Review

Innocent Until Caught

Developer:  Divide by Zero
Publisher:  Psygnosis
Year Released:  1993

Review by Gordon Aplin (January, 2006)

Innocent Until Caught Screenshot I played Innocent Until Caught when it was first released towards the end of 1993 and have just played it again 12 years later. There were bits that I remembered and much that I had forgotten, so it was almost like playing it for the first time. One of the things I remembered most vividly was the much vaunted 'attitude' of the protagonist Jack T Ladd. 'Attitude' was the buzzword of 1990s youth and if you had it you were 'cool,' and acceptable, and not nerdy at all.

I remember reading several reviews at the time that suggested here at last was an 'adult' game. It was a constant refrain and I still have the December 1993 issue of PC Format which states: "If the cartoon style of Day of the Tentacle, or the cute graphics of Simon the Sorcerer ... put you off, Innocent is the game to turn to for a hard-nosed, gritty adventure. It provides you with a much more adult-orientated game, and it's not just the seedy locations, sex and booze, but Jack T Ladd's attitude." It was these sort of comments that shaped my later article: Adult Games ... but are they really?.

So what is it about Jack's attitude that is so praise worthy? Sure he's cynical, but so was Simon. He's a pathetic sexist loser but so was Leisure Suit Larry. He's a thief with contempt for the law but, given that he lives in a future distopia where everyone is corrupt, he's no different to anyone else. Perhaps it is just the "seedy locations, sex and booze" after all. But there is no sex in the game, not even in the brothel, just juvenile sexual innuendo, and no booze to speak of except for Jack's one drink when he immediately passes out. It must be the seedy locations that make Innocent Until Caught an 'adult' game.

Seedy locations
Jack T Ladd is a thief. Ok, he's a cynical thief and wears a cool black leather jacket that exudes attitude and probably some other unsavoury odours as well. He's fallen foul of the corrupt Interstellar Revenue Decimation Service (IRDS) or taxman to put it in lay terms. After a shakedown in space Jack is left with no money and an astronomical tax bill which he must pay within 28 days. Failure to comply will result in torture, followed by sale of internal organs and ultimately death.

Innocent Until Caught ScreenshotJack lands his (stolen) space craft on Tayte, a seedy planet of perpetual night, and sets off in pursuit of a bar in which to drown his sorrows. He needs to get some money fast, and he'll need to steal it since working for it is out of the question. Which is ironic, really, as thieving is his work and he ends up thieving to order which is the same as working. Along with the petty theft just to survive, Jack must also steal items from the bank, museum and the zoo. As with many traditional adventure games he will also need to help other characters before they will help him.

Of course, Innocent Until Caught isn't solely about thieving. As the story progresses Jack falls in love (lust) and gets caught up in a threat to destroy planetary systems.

Playing the game
The game has a point and click interface and you can scroll through the various action icons by right clicking or simply selecting the action from the tool bar that sits at the bottom of the screen alongside a map that shows exits from locations, and the inventory. To navigate just use the walk icon and click anywhere on the screen to have Jack walk to that spot. He doesn't run and you can't jump to exits so be prepared for a bit of trudging.

The interface can be a bit fiddly at times as you need to be precise with your clicking. Also, before Jack will pick anything up he looks around furtively and the delay can sometimes make you think you haven't got it right. If you try again in frustration it reverses the previous instruction so Jack takes the object and immediately drops it again. A little patience is required.

Also, your inventory can fill up quickly (especially early in the game) leaving no room to place new items. I resorted to dropping previously used items in the one location so that I could find them again if necessary. You need space in your inventory to combine items and once again precise placement is necessary. If you have tried combining things that you know must go together but won't, don't give up. One particular combination took me several tries before I could get it to work.

Having said that, the interface also has some useful features. If you use the 'eye' icon to look around the game world or examine things in your inventory the other action icons on the tool bar will pulse to let you know the other possible actions you can carry out. As you move the 'eye' icon around Jack's head will turn to follow it as if he is looking around - a small but innovative detail for the time. The magnifying glass icon gives you more information about an item and when you pick something up the cursor changes into a graphic representation of that item such as a screwdriver or crowbar to enable you to use it in the game world.

Wacky puzzles and conversations
Innocent Until Caught Screenshot Innocent Until Caught is a substantial game and there are lots of things to do. Most of the puzzles involve finding (or stealing) items to use in the right location, though there is a maze to traverse and you will also compose a poem. As it is a humorous game some of the situations and solutions to puzzles might be described as wacky. They have also been described as obscure. I find that this is sometimes an unfair criticism by players who have simply missed the clues. For example, Jack will need to use two incongruous items in a particular location to break into the bank vault. If you miss the clue you will wonder how you were expected to think of using those two items together.

The clue is provided in conversation but it can be missed if you're not careful. This is because there are two strands to your interaction in conversations. A dialogue screen pops up showing Jack and whoever he is talking to. You can select topics to discuss by clicking on the questions that appear on the screen. Conversations are carried out in speech bubbles and if you move your cursor over the text it will sometimes change to a question mark over certain words. If you click at these times it will open up new topics. In this way you will learn of the use of the above incongruous items. As I said, wacky, but not obscure.

You can right click through conversations but it's not recommended as you may miss the opportunity to gather more information as noted above. There are no voices so all conversations are text only.

Fuzzy graphics
Innocent Until Caught Screenshot The graphics in Innocent Until Caught are serviceable as you would expect for a game of this vintage with the characters being fuzzy and indistinct. This technique was used to smooth out some of the pixelated blockyness of earlier games but that blockyness is still there as Jack moves into the distance and jerkily shrinks to provide the illusion of a 3D perspective. The music is location specific, but once again pretty good for its time, and the title theme is catchy.

You save and load your game from the main menu screen by selecting a button marked "status' below the tool bar. Here you can also see how much of the game you have completed along with your ranking which changes from 'novice' through to 'master thief' as you progress. There are 99 save game slots and a picture of Jack which I thought was just for decoration. I was wrong. The one puzzle that held me up for a time involved getting Jack to wear a disguise. I thought he needed to hide in order to get changed so I spent some time working on the nearby bushes. In desperation I turned to the manual and found that Jack can indeed wear different clothes, but I needed to 'equip' them in the main menu screen. Speaking of the manual, you will be asked to enter an access code each time you start the game and these are found in the manual, so don't lose it.

Despite the 'attitude' and the 'seedy' locations I quite enjoyed teaming up with Jack again. This is a fun game that gives you plenty to do. Not all of the humour is juvenile and there are some genuinely funny moments. My favourite was a cut scene after Jack gets captured and is stretched out on a rack in a torture chamber. He is confessing to his crimes and his involvement in various plots when the torturer interrupts and tells Jack to have the decency to wait until the torture begins so as not to deprive him of job satisfaction.

From any perspective Innocent Until Caught is a humorous graphic adventure game that doesn't take itself seriously, unlike some early reviewers. It's worth chasing up if you missed it. Jack T Ladd appeared in one sequel called Guilty that also had its moments and was released in 1995. It played smoothly in Win XP using DOSBox.

MS DOS, 286 or better, 1MB RAM, VGA graphics card, mouse, keyboard.

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Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2006. All rights reserved.